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Suspects mum on assisted suicide case

Two from Maryland turn themselves in Monday

POSTED: March 2, 2009 7:22 p.m.
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Nicholas Sheridan

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CUMMING — One of two Maryland men charged in connection with the assisted suicide of a 58-year-old Cumming resident said Monday that they have been advised not to comment on the case.

Lawrence D. Egbert declined to answer questions from the media Monday afternoon as he and Nicholas Sheridan left the Forsyth County Detention Center where they had earlier turned themselves in and posted bond.

Egbert said attorneys and the Final Exit Network, a Marietta-based right-to-die organization of which he and Sheridan are reportedly members, have asked the men "not to talk."

Egbert said only that they had been treated "nicely" and appreciated the "Southern hospitality."

Egbert, 81, and Sheridan, 60, both of Baltimore, have each been charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act.

The charges stem from their alleged role in the June 20 death of John Celmer in his Jasmine Court home.

According to a 29-page affidavit filed in Forsyth County Superior Court, the cause of death was ruled asphyxia suffocation as a result of inhaling helium. The document said the death was ruled a homicide.

The affidavit said Celmer previously had neck and head cancer, but was free of it at the time of his death. He also was making a "remarkable recovery" from two recent surgeries to repair his deteriorated jaw and a skin graft.

Egbert and Sheridan waived the right to extradition after they were arrested last week in Maryland. They had until 5 p.m. Monday to report to the local jail.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Capt. Frank Huggins said the men turned themselves in at about 3:15 p.m. They were released a couple of hours later after each posted a $66,000 bond.

They are the third and fourth people charged in the death.

Claire Blehr, 76, of Atlanta and Thomas E. Goodwin, 63, of Florida and Kennesaw were released from jail Feb. 26 after also posting $66,000 bond each on the same charges.

According to information published on Final Exit’s Web site, Goodwin is the former president. Authorities have said Blehr is a volunteer with the group.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Blehr and Goodwin as the result of an undercover operation Feb. 25 in Dawson County. A GBI agent posing as a pancreatic cancer patient gained the group’s trust and learned its methods.

The investigation into the group was launched after Celmer’s death, which aroused the suspicions of Forsyth County Coroner Lauren McDonald, the Cumming police and Celmer’s wife.

The trial, which is believed to be Georgia’s first assisted suicide case, likely will unfold in Forsyth County. District Attorney Penny Penn has said her office will prosecute the case.

She said the suspects, if convicted, each face maximum sentences of 20 years for the RICO violation, five years for assisted suicide and three years for the tampering charge.

Information published on Final Exit’s Web site shows that the volunteer organization is "dedicated to serving people who are suffering from an intolerable condition."

The site goes on to say that Final Exit volunteers offer counseling, support and guidance to "self-deliverance at a time and place of your choosing, but you always do the choosing." It says the group will "never encourage you to hasten your death."

The affidavit said Celmer’s wife found Final Exit paperwork on his computer when cleaning his room after his death. Final Exit books also were found in his room.

She also discovered a typed letter, dated May 1, which indicated Celmer wanted to pursue a "helium induced methodology ... for the purposes of coordinating my demise."

The letter was addressed to Sheridan and appeared to seek help from Final Exit, the affidavit said.



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