Kane won't appeal dismissal of assisted-suicide charges

Barbara Mancini had been charged with the assisted- suicide of her father, 93.
Barbara Mancini had been charged with the assisted- suicide of her father, 93. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 26, 2014

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Monday afternoon that she would not appeal a judge's decision to dismiss assisted-suicide charges against Philadelphia nurse Barbara Mancini in a case closely watched by people who were concerned the state had intruded on a private family matter.

Mancini, 58, was charged last year with assisted suicide for handing her 93-year-old father his morphine.

Schuylkill County Court Judge Jacqueline Russell on Feb. 11 dismissed the case against Mancini, claiming the Office of the Attorney General had based its case on conjecture and lack of evidence.

"After careful consideration, OAG will not appeal the decision," Kane said in a statement. "Judge Russell's decision was based in part on her finding an absence of evidence at the preliminary hearing relating to the cause of death. Due to the inability of the Commonwealth to reopen the record, a legal determination was made that an appeal would not have a substantial likelihood of success."

Kane's decision to prosecute a woman who maintained that she had given her terminally ill father the medicine he asked for had drawn substantial criticism.

In her statement, Kane said: "It is the responsibility of prosecutors to apply the facts of a given case to existing law. Where the facts match prohibited conduct, charge(s) will be filed and brought before a court of law. If the citizens of the Commonwealth disagree with an existing statute, it is incumbent upon the people to work with the General Assembly to amend the law. Until amendment occurs, it is the legal responsibility of prosecutors to enforce the law as it currently exists."

Mancini, told of the news Monday, said: "I'm thrilled. I'm glad to hear it. I never thought this thing would go as far as it did."

Several states have passed laws that allow for aid in dying, although Pennsylvania and New Jersey are not among them.

In her statement, Kane contended that, after Mancini's arrest, "prosecutors determined that there was enough evidence to proceed to court. The evidence included statements by Mancini that she provided her father with morphine to fulfill his wish. Although these statements were later deemed inadmissible based on a procedural rule, they formed a legitimate basis for this prosecution."

That evidence was the testimony at the preliminary hearing by hospice nurses.

Mancini has said this testimony was a complete distortion and inaccurate. The court never heard her side of the story.

"Attorney General Kane’s statement that Judge Russell ruled that statements attributed to Barbara Mancini were ‘inadmissible based on a procedural rule’ is dead wrong,” said defense attorney Fred Fanelli. “Judge Russell said there was no evidence of a crime independent of these statements, as required by law.

A representative for the Hospice of Central Pennsylvania said Monday night that nobody was available to comment on Kane's decision.

Mancini was arrested on a felony charge Feb. 7, after a hospice worker who came to check on her father called her supervisors and Pottsville police.

Mancini's father, Joseph Yourshaw, 93, was in hospice care and repeatedly had expressed to hospice workers his desire to die. He suffered from heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and other ailments. He had refused all medical treatments and completed a living will, and his physician had signed a do-not-resuscitate order.

That morning, according to his daughter, he asked her to hand him his legally prescribed morphine, and drank it. When the hospice nurse arrived, she suspected foul play and called authorities. Yourshaw was taken to the hospital against his daughter's wishes and revived. He died there four days later.

Deputy Senior Attorney General Anthony Forray, prosecuting the case, contended that Mancini had essentially conspired to help her father end his life, pushing hospice to prescribe morphine for the first time and giving him a dose that she knew would be lethal. And when he didn't die, Forray argued, she asked the hospice nurse for more to end the job.

"We believe the evidence is overwhelming," he argued at a hearing.

Defense attorney Fred Fanelli contended from the outset that this was all untrue and a distortion of the facts. And Judge Russell agreed. In her dismissal Feb. 11, she wrote, "A jury may not receive a case where it must rely on conjecture to reach a verdict."

The case, she added, "would not warrant submission to a jury due to the lack of competent evidence," and "the commonwealth's reliance on speculation" served "as an inappropriate means to prove its case."

Mancini was under a gag order from a preliminary hearing and didn't speak until the case was dismissed by Russell.

In an interview after the judge's dismissal, two weeks ago, Mancini said that her father had been prescribed morphine by hospice as part of his care plan the day he was admitted to Hospice of Central Pennsylvania. When the hospice nurse learned he had drunk his morphine, Mancini said, the nurse at first asked whether she could perform Reiki on Yourshaw.

When the nurse then told her she had to call police, Mancini said, it felt like a dagger to the heart.

Mancini was suspended without pay and then lost her job as an emergency room nurse at Lankenau Medical Center. "I need some time to heal before I can go forward with resuming employment," she said Monday.

"They told me I can have my job back, and I appreciate that very much. But I need some time to recover before I can take on the challenges and stress of emergency nursing."


215-854-5639 mvitez@phillynews.com@michaelvitez

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