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Defense in assisted suicide: Woman unaware vet wanted to die

By Larry WelBorn

March 29, 2012

SANTA ANA – The defense attorney representing a Laguna Woods woman charged with the rarely used crime of assisting a suicide said Thursday that his client was merely trying to help an elderly friend take his prescribed medication and was unaware that he wanted to die.

“There is a significant difference between helping a friend take his medication and helping someone commit suicide,” said David Borsari, a criminal defense attorney representing Elizabeth Jane Barrett. “We are very adamant that the decedent never indicated in any way that he wanted to die.”

Barrett, 65, was arrested at her Laguna Woods home Wednesday and charged with assisting an 86-year-old World War II veteran commit suicide on Sept. 30, 2011, by crushing up a lethal cocktail of drugs and spreading them in his yogurt.

Jack Koency was depressed, lonely and paranoid and wanted to die, according to prosecutors. And Barrett, a woman he met during a coffee chats at a nearby Starbucks, decided to help, according to Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh.

On the day he died, Barrett drove Koency to the Neptune Society so he could make his final arrangements, and then went with him to his apartment in a senior citizen’s community, according to police reports. A motion-activated surveillance camera videotaped Barrett crushing up pills, putting the powder in yogurt and giving it to Koency, who retired to his bedroom and died a short time later.

An autopsy revealed that Koency died from the combined effects of the drugs Oxycodone, fluoxetine and alprazolam, said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The surveillance camera also captured Barrett removing Koency’s military medals from his wall, and calling the Neptune Society and 911 to report his death.

In response to media attention given to Barrett’s arrest, Borsari said Thursday that Koency was not ill, was in relatively good health, was mobile and had no apparent motive to want to die. And if he did, Borsari said, he didn’t communicate that desire to Barrett.

“But who knows what was going on inside his head,” Borsari added. “I do know that if he did want to die, he never indicated that to Elizabeth.”

He said his Barrett, who posted bail and was released from custody late Wednesday, believed she was helping Koency take his some of his many prescribed pills at a time when he had no one else to count on. “My understanding is that it is not uncommon for elderly people who take a lot of pills to crush them up and use them in apple sauce or yogurt.”

Borsari said that’s what Barrett believed she was doing. “It stops well short of a conscious assistance of suicide,” the Fullerton lawyer said.

Barrett lives by herself and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Borsari said.

“She’s never had so much as a traffic ticket in her life,” Borsari added. “She wouldn’t start her criminal career with anything to do with another person’s death, Borsari said.

Barrett thought Koency was “a patriot and a nice gentleman,” Borsari added. “She thought his death was a terrible occurrence.”