St. Peters Man Acquitted of Assisted Suicide Charges

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No, it's not the Final Exit Network, the assisted suicide group that has been in legal hot water since March of last year when several of its members were busted in a sting in Georgia. This case is much smaller.

Jacob Runge, 22, of St. Peters was acquitted in a Clayton courtroom yesterday of charges of voluntarily manslaughter for providing his friend Alex Harkins with the gun he knew Harkins would use to take his own life. This was the first assisted-suicide case to go to trial in Missouri in 101 years.

Runge and Harkins had made a suicide pact and bought the 9 mm pistol together. On May 29, 2009, they went to the St. Stanislaus Conservation Area in Hazelwood to carry out their plan. But after seeing Harkins shoot himself in the head, Runge says he couldn't go through with it. Four days later, when Harkins' parents showed up at his home looking for their son, Runge led them to the body.

According to court testimony, Harkins, who was 21 when he died, had attempted suicide before. His troubles started when he was molested by a priest when he was thirteen.

Had Runge been convicted, he would have faced a minimum prison term of five years and maximum of life if the jury found him guilty of the companion charge of armed criminal action. The assisted-suicide statute in Missouri, last updated in 1984, is meant to apply more to physicians.

The last time an assisted-suicide case was tried in Missouri was in 1909. The survivor of a husband-and-wife suicide pact was convicted at trial, but the verdict was overturned by an appellate court.

As for Runge, he plans to train as a mechanic. "I'm just going to try to make a good life for myself," he told the Post-Dispatch after the verdict was read. "This thing is going to haunt me the rest of my life."

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