- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas health care worker who said he helped a client commit suicide was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder in the man’s death.

A Douglas County jury found Ronald Eugene Heskett, 49, guilty in the Sept. 12, 2014 death of Vance Moulton, 65, who suffered from cerebral palsy. The jury, which deliberated about four hours, could have found Heskett guilty of first-degree murder.

Heskett admitted he helped Moulton die by twisting a towel around his neck only after repeated requests from Moulton to help him die, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (https://bit.ly/1Vb3xoX ).

During closing arguments, prosecutors told the jury Heskett killed Moulton for money, noting that about $13,000 in government refunds was missing from Moulton’s apartment. Heskett testified that the $13,000 was used to buy a car and car parts as part of a plan with Moulton to sell the car for a profit.

Prosecutor David Melton argued that no evidence indicated Moulton wanted to die or was suicidal. He noted Moulton left no will or suicide note and did not die in a peaceful manner.

He also said if jurors believed Moulton asked Heskett to kill him, the death still was a murder because suicide is “the deliberate destruction of one’s own life.”

“It’s not suicide if someone asks me to shoot them and I point a gun at them a pull the trigger,” Melton said. “That’s not suicide; that’s murder.”

Heskett’s attorney, Mike Warner, argued that some witnesses testified that Moulton mentioned wishing he were dead, and he reminded jurors about Heskett’s testimony.

“He testified - he did not have to - and he testified about the good, the bad and the ugly,” Warner said. “If you find (Heskett) credible, that’s evidence.”

Warner had argued on Tuesday that jurors should have the option of convicting Heskett of assisted suicide or voluntary manslaughter. However, Douglas County District Judge Peggy Kittel said those charges were not lesser-included charges to the first-degree murder charge, so she did not allow them as options in the jury instructions.

After the verdict, Warner said the first- and second-degree murder charges affected the outcome.

“This case was overcharged and we’d communicated that to the DA’s office since the start,” Warner said. “With only two options given, I think the jury did the best they could trying to figure out a case with a lot of issues.”

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a news release that the “jury agreed” with the prosecution’s motive theory.

“We never believed that Heskett was trying to help his friend commit suicide,” Branson said. “Van Moulton was murdered by Ronald Heskett to cover up the fact that he had stolen money and used it to buy a car.”

Heskett will be jailed without bond until his sentencing on Nov. 6. He faces 12 to 54 years in prison.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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