updated 10/26/2007 5:47:52 PM ET 2007-10-26T21:47:52

A former Unitarian minister was freed from jail Friday after a federal magistrate ruled he cannot be extradited to Ireland to face trial for his role in a Dublin woman’s 2002 suicide.

After reviewing laws in all 50 states, U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort concluded that the treaty between Ireland and the U.S. does not support extradition for George Exoo on the assisted suicide charge, which carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

“While Mr. Exoo’s conduct may be viewed as wrong, and very highly improper by most if not all of us, it is generally not recognized as criminal here in the United States,” VanDervort said.

Five years ago, Exoo told numerous media outlets that he and his live-in companion, Thomas McGurrin, sat with Dublin resident Rosemary Toole as she took sleep-inducing drugs, smoked a last cigarette and then pulled a helium-filled bag over her head.

Exoo has also said he received $2,500 from Toole, who told him she was suffering from a chronic brain condition.

In a 2002 interview with The Associated Press, Exoo said he didn’t assist in Toole’s death: “I was simply there.”

Irish authorities allege Toole suffered from depression and from a condition that caused swelling in her head, but was not terminally ill or disabled.

Exoo, 64, had been in custody since prosecutors began extradition proceedings in June. His lawyer argued that the extradition treaty does not cover the pending assisted suicide charge.

Federal prosecutors had urged VanDervort to interpret the treaty broadly.

An 'inherent human right'
Exoo exchanged his jail-issued clothing for a suit and clerical collar before walking out of the courthouse with supporters on his way home to Beckley, where he had been minister of the New River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He is now a minister at a Universalist church in Lewisburg.

After he was released from jail, Exoo praised the ruling while offering reporters the lunch he had brought with him from jail — a bologna sandwich and cookies.

“I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “I have a parish in Lewisburg, and I intend to preach there Sunday.”

Before the brief morning hearing, Exoo exchanged a thumbs up with some of the dozen or so supporters on hand. Several gasped when the federal magistrate announced his ruling.

Exoo spokesman Richard Cote predicted the ruling would prove key in the fight to recognize suicide as an “inherent human right.”

“Neither the state nor the church has any right to interfere when a person chooses to end their own life for their own reasons and at their own time,” Cote said.

Steven Drake, a spokesman for Not Dead Yet, a national group that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia, said VanDervort’s comment on assisted suicide laws in the United States was overreaching.

“That’s awfully broad. There is certainly enough instances of people being prosecuted in various states,” Drake said.

“I think there are people in Ireland who would have wanted to see this played out in court,” he said. “But, on the other hand, it looks like the government gave it its best case.”

Case Ireland's first known assisted suicide
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Ellis declined comment on VanDervort’s decision or on prosecutors’ options.

Toole contacted Exoo while he ran Compassionate Chaplaincy, a tax-exempt organization he founded to counsel people seeking to commit suicide.

As director of Compassionate Chaplaincy, Exoo has “advised and given spiritual counseling” to more than 100 people who ended their lives at the times and places of their own choosing, according to the organization’s Web site.

Toole’s death was the first known assisted suicide in Ireland, where assisted suicide has been illegal since 1993.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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