Frail but still feisty, 79-year-old Jack Kevorkian, the man known by some as "Dr. Death," walked to freedom today with a smile.
He said his release was "one of the high points of life" as he walked out with his attorney.
Inmates inside the prison had been milling about all morning for a glimpse of the 79-year-old, while reporters and television vans greeted him on the outside with cameras, microphones and questions.
"60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace will talk to Kevorkian in his first post-prison interview, to be broadcast this Sunday at 7 p.m. EDT. to read a preview.
Kevorkian attorney Mayer Morganroth said his client planned a news conference next week.
This doctor made house calls, with his homemade suicide machine, saying he was on a mission to help people who wanted to end their lives. He admitted to helping along more than 100 people to their deaths, leaving bodies in hotels and at hospitals. And for the better part of a decade he got away with it.
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.
Then in late 1998, 22 million Americans saw a video of Kevorkian injecting ALS victim Thomas Youk with a lethal substance on CBS's 60 Minutes. Kevorkian was charged in Youk's death and convicted of second degree murder.
But Youk's family stood by Kevorkian, then … and now.
"Jack Kevorkian was the only person providing people with a choice when they found themselves in a difficult position at the end of life," Terry Youk, Thomas's brother, told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
But many felt his unorthodox methods and unusual personality turned off potential supporters.
"He was kind of a wild-eyed fanatic," bioethicist Art Caplan told Bowers. "He got people's attention, but when you look more carefully, it wasn't the kind of person you wanted to lead the movement."
Kevorkian received a 10- to 25-year sentence, 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.
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 a Detroit radio station in Detroit. "I'll work to have it legalized. But I won't break any laws doing it."
Kevorkian re-enters a society still largely undecided whether physician assisted suicide should be a right or whether it is wrong. Efforts to legalize it in six states (Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington, Hawaii and Michigan) have failed. The Michigan Catholic Conference says it will oppose any effort to renew the push for assisted suicide in Michigan.
Today only one state — Oregon — allows doctors to offer patients an option, a prescription to end their suffering.
As a condition of parole, Kevorkian promised not to participate in any more deaths. And in an exclusive interview he tells Wallace that if asked to assist a suicide, he would refuse:
"It would be painful for me but I'd have to refuse it, because I gave my word that I won't do it again."
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