LANSING, Mich. — Jack Kevorkian, the retired pathologist dubbed “Dr. Death” after claiming he had participated in at least 130 assisted suicides, left prison after eight years Friday still believing people have the right to die.
A smiling Kevorkian, now 79, said it was “one of the high points in life” as he walked out with his attorney.
Mike Wallace, the correspondent for “60 Minutes,” whose airing of a Kevorkian-aided suicide led to the charges and his prison term, met Kevorkian outside with an embrace and the words, “Hello, young man.” Kevorkian is to appear in a “60 Minutes” segment on Sunday.
Attorney Mayer Morganroth said his client planned a news conference on Tuesday.
“He thanks everybody for coming. He thanks the thousands who have supported him, have written to him and the enormous amount of people who have really been comfortable in supporting him,” Morganroth said. “He just wants a little privacy for the next few days.”
About a dozen of his supporters lined a road to the prison under gray skies, holding hand-lettered signs, including, “Jack, Glad You’re Back” and “Jack, We’re Glad You’re Out of the Box.”
“This is something that I feel strongly about,” said Pam Hawley, 52, a Florida resident visiting Michigan who organized the show of support.
Time off for good behavior
Throughout the 1990s, Kevorkian challenged authorities to make his actions legal — or try to stop him. He burned state orders against him and showed up at court in costume.
That conviction earned Kevorkian a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder, but he earned time off his sentence for good behavior.
He is expected to now move to Bloomfield Hills, just outside Detroit, where he will live with friends and resume the artistic and musical hobbies he missed in prison. His lawyer and friends have said he plans to live on a small pension and Social Security while doing some writing and make some speeches.
Kevorkian has promised never to help in another assisted suicide. But Ruth Holmes, who has worked as his legal assistant and handled his correspondence while he was in prison, said his views on the subject haven’t changed.
“This should be a matter that is handled as a fundamental human right that is between the patient, the doctor, his family and his God,” Holmes said of Kevorkian’s beliefs.
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In a recent interview, Kevorkian also made it clear that his support for letting people decide when they want to die hasn’t wavered.
“It’s got to be legalized. That’s the point,” he told WJBK-TV in Detroit. “I’ll work to have it legalized. But I won’t break any laws doing it.”
The Michigan Catholic Conference says it will oppose any effort to renew the push for assisted suicide in Michigan.
The state has had a law banning assisted suicide since 1998, the same year voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have made physician-assisted suicide legal for terminally ill patients.
Right to Life of Michigan, which also opposes any effort to allow assisted suicide, said it distrusts Kevorkian’s promise to not help anyone else die. “He made similar false promises prior to a string of deaths, the last of which led to his imprisonment,” the group said in a statement this week.
Oregon is the only state in the nation in which a terminally ill patient with six months or less to live can legally ask a doctor to prescribe a lethal amount of medication.
Kevorkian will be on parole for two years, and one of the conditions he must meet is that he can’t help anyone else die. He is also prohibited from providing care for anyone who is older than 62 or is disabled. He could go back to prison if he violates his parole.
He will report regularly to a parole officer and won’t be able to leave the state without permission. He can speak about assisted suicide, but can’t show people how to make a machine like one he invented to give lethal drugs to those who wanted to die, Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.
Kevorkian did not have many possessions to take out of prison with him, in part because many of them have disappeared.
“Strange as this may seem, last month ... someone stole his manuscript he’d been writing and his belongings,” Morganroth said, adding that he expects someone took Kevorkian’s clothes and medicine to sell on eBay.
Holmes said Kevorkian was looking forward to eating some of the things he couldn’t freely get in prison, including a sandwich of plain sliced turkey on thin lavosh bread.
“He’s looking forward to some grapes and apricots,” she said. “He loves pistachios.”
Working with Kevorkian, Holmes already has sent to a book publisher about 250 of the thousands of letters he got while in prison.
“He wasn’t able to answer all of them, but it was very heartwarming to see the number of people who wrote to him from all over the world,” she said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report