A man convicted of murdering a debt-ridden motivational speaker was sentenced Monday to at least two decades in prison in a case that tested the bounds of assisted suicide.
Speaking publicly for the first time about Jeffrey Locker's July 2009 death, Kenneth Minor said his own life had "ended that day" that he accepted Locker's offer to pay to be killed in a seeming robbery so his family could collect millions of dollars in insurance money.
"In the end, Mr. Locker is where he wanted to be," said Minor, 38, his voice sometimes breaking as he spoke. "I'm no animal, and I ain't got no malice in my heart."
"In the end, a life is a life. And I ask your forgiveness," he concluded — before yelling an expletive on hearing his 20-years-to-life sentence. He plans an appeal that will likely note a juror's statement that she felt compelled to convict him because of the judge's legal instructions.
The case was unusual for broaching the concept of assisted suicide in the context of strangers staging a seeming street crime.
Locker approached Minor on an East Harlem street to ask for help staging his death, both prosecutors and Minor had said. Minor didn't testify at his trial but told his account to police when he was arrested.
Locker, 52, co-authored a 1998 self-help book and gave presentations on handling workplace stress. But he was deep in financial trouble himself, partly because of his investment in a $300 million Ponzi scheme run by Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync mastermind Lou Pearlman.
Locker had laid plans for his demise, including researching funeral arrangements online, sending his wife an email explaining how to shield and distribute their assets "when I am gone" and buying about $14 million in life insurance in his final months to add to $4 million he already had, investigators found.
Minor was a down-and-out stranger, a former computer technician with a record of drug arrests. He said he initially balked at Locker's request but started to feel sorry for him after hearing about his money troubles.
Prosecutors said Minor went beyond aiding suicide by stabbing the 52-year-old Locker seven times in the self-help expert's car in East Harlem, miles from his home on suburban Long Island. Minor was arrested a few days later after using Locker's ATM card — his compensation from Locker, he said.
"This was murder for money, not a mercy killing," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said after Minor's conviction last month.
Minor said he only held a knife while Locker repeatedly lunged into it.
"I'm not suggesting that what Mr. Minor did is correct or right," his lawyer, Daniel J. Gotlin, told the court Monday," but "had Mr. Locker not decided to come to Manhattan and find an underprivileged individual, a minority individual, to do his dirty work, we would not be here today."
Minor, who noted that he had offered to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, also said Monday he believed race played a role in the case.
But state Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman said race "has nothing to do with what's going on here."
"(Minor) was willing to participate in inflicting great pain on another human being for cash," she said before sentencing him to a prison term midway between the minimum and maximum for his conviction.
Berkman's instructions to the jury about New York's law surrounding assisted suicide are likely to be a centerpiece of Minor's appeal. The state allows "causing or aiding" a suicide as a defense to certain murder charges; over Gotlin's objections, Berkman told jurors that provision couldn't apply if Minor "actively" caused Locker's death.
That left jurors confused about the defense, juror Olympia Moy said in a sworn March 11 statement Gotlin filed in court.
"If the judge had not instructed us to consider whether Mr. Minor's killing was 'active' or not, I would have voted not guilty to murder," Moy's statement said, adding that she contacted Gotlin unbidden to express her concerns after the verdict.
A person who answered a phone number for Moy hung up on a reporter Monday evening.
Berkman said Monday she believes the instructions were appropriate, and she turned down a bid from Gotlin to overturn jurors' March 3 verdict.
"I'm sorry that a juror was shaken," she said, but "day-after remorse by a juror is never a basis to question a verdict."
Locker's family has been unable to collect most of the insurance money. His widow and family declined to comment Monday through her father's law office.
Criminal cases surrounding assisted suicide have often concerned terminally ill people and the medical providers or relatives who help them end their lives. But a few other cases besides Minor's have involved looser relationships and people who weren't sick.