By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — If Tar Heel lawmakers want another reason to move assisted suicide legislation to the top of their to-do list early next year, they need look no further than Wake County Superior Court where the defense attorney for Apex teen Ryan Hare tried to convince a jury that his client didn’t commit murder, but simply helped a friend who was resigned to die.
“I have not offered assisted suicide as a defense … such as self defense. … I know that it is not a recognized defense in North Carolina,” attorney Robert Padovano told the jury Sept. 23. “But at the same time it is not an enumerated crime in North Carolina.”
Padovano said he was offering the assisted suicide theory as “either a mitigator or an enhancer” and went on to say that if a doctor were to participate in an assisted suicide he could be charged with a crime “on any side of the spectrum.”
“Thankfully, jurors did not follow his lead in this case, but decided based on the evidence to convict for first-degree murder,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “But this reveals the urgency of changing our state statutes so that there is no question that assisted suicide is not legal in North Carolina.”
Hare, one of four teens involved in the slaying, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted first-degree murder. His defense didn’t deny that their client played a role, but argued that he was not the mastermind of a murder plot that left a drugged and drunken Matthew Silliman dead with duct tape over his mouth, a zip tie around his neck and a bag over his head.
“Matt was bipolar, suffering from depression and not taking his medications so that he no longer had the desire, the will, the strength, whatever, to battle his demons, to battle his depression. He was at the point of giving up,” Padovano said of the night of Nov. 30, 2008, reminding jurors that the 18-year-old Eagle Scout had tried to kill himself just two months before and that “there was a dark side there that his own family didn’t know about.”
The attorney used instant message chats between the teens to show that Silliman, believing Hare’s claim that a hit man was out to kill one of them, was volunteering to die.
“I wanted to kill myself but I can’t put that financial burden on my parents. So if I could get Roger to do it, then it’s perfect,” Silliman had typed that November.
“I think this is the clearest evidence of all that two weeks before his death that Matt was resigned to dying, not that he wanted to die but that he was resigned to it,” Padovano said, adding that at least one of the teens who helped to “hasten his demise” that night had said that Silliman himself had called it “assisted suicide.”
But the prosecution painted a very different picture, a twisted, jealousy-fueled plot that involved prior attempts to strangle Silliman, the purchase of a taser, a ball bat and gloves and even the digging of a grave where, according to testimony, Hare, Aadil Khan and Allegra Dahlquist planned to bury their friend. They concede that Silliman knowingly downed wine laced with horse tranquilizers but said he did so only to numb the pain that he knew was coming when the trio told him he was going to die that night, one way or another.
Medical examiners told the court, Silliman died from asphyxiation and that evidence indicates he was alive when the bag was zip tied around his neck. His hands and feet were also bound.
“The horrible and obvious circumstances in this sad case helped stop the assisted suicide claim in its tracks,” said the Rev. Creech. “But consider the implications for a less heinous murder and you see how important it is that we seal this crack in our General Statutes before it widens.”
The fact that North Carolina law is silent on the issue of assisted suicide came to light earlier this month when the media reported that George “Reverend Death” Exoo, a former Unitarian Universalist pastor who has sent more than 100 people on their “great adventure” of death, plans to set up shop in Gastonia.
North Carolina Right to Life had pushed for a bill, introduced by Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston) in 2003 (S 145), that would have made physician-assisted suicide a Class D felony. But the measure never advanced to the Senate floor.