W.Va. Minister Faces Trial In Ireland Over 2002 Assisted Suicide

Wednesday, June 27th 2007, 10:18 pm
By: News On 6

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ A one-time Unitarian minister who helped a Dublin woman kill herself in 2002 faces extradition to Ireland after being taken into custody on a federal arrest warrant.

George Exoo was arrested Monday in West Virginia and was being held at a jail near his Beckley home. Irish authorities have sought his extradition since he admitted assisting in the suicide of Dublin woman Rosemary Toole at her home.

Five years ago, Exoo told reporters that he and his live-in companion, Thomas McGurrin, sat with Toole as she swallowed crushed pills, covered her head with a plastic bag and breathed helium. He has said he gave her advice on how to commit suicide and helped her practice putting the bag over her head.

Exoo, 64, has said Toole convinced him she had an incurable brain disorder. According to court papers filed by federal prosecutors, however, Irish authorities contend Toole was not terminally ill, but suffered from depression and from a condition that caused swelling in her head.

Exoo was scheduled to attend a bond hearing Friday, according to his lawyer Edward Weis. Weis declined to comment on the case and would not say whether Exoo plans to fight the extradition.

Not Dead Yet, a U.S. disability rights group opposed to legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, said it was pleasantly surprised by the news of Exoo's incarceration. The group had been pushing for his extradition for years, according to research analyst Stephen Drake, and feared it wouldn't happen.

Drake said he is not aware of any other case in which the U.S. has extradited someone in an assisted suicide case. Toole's death was the first known assisted suicide in Ireland, where it has been illegal since 1993.

The Irish government issued an arrest warrant in 2004, and the U.S. State Department passed it along to prosecutors here the same year. Federal prosecutors did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the timing of Exoo's arrest.

McGurrin has not been arrested and is not named in the criminal complaint. His last listed address in Beckley has a disconnected phone number.

Exoo was once a minister at the New River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Beckley, but has not been affiliated with it for several years, according to Kelly Kaufman, the current minister. Kaufman didn't say why he left, but did say he resigned his position after negotiating with the fellowship.

Exoo was contacted by Toole because at the time he ran Compassionate Chaplaincy, a tax-exempt organization he founded that counseled people seeking to commit suicide.

The criminal complaint against Exoo including the transcript of an interview he gave Irish journalist Declan White. In it, he claimed to have helped numerous people commit suicide, and said he believed God endorsed his work.

``If I thought I was doing anything that was condemned by the other side, namely God and the angels, or whatever it is on the other side, I would not do what I am doing,'' Exoo said, according to the transcript.

He also claimed most of those who had died communicated with him from beyond the grave, including Toole. ``When we were in Amsterdam a man brushed past us with two dozen roses and with the aroma I knew it was Rosemary,'' he said.

Exoo also acknowledged in the interview that he received $2,500 from Toole.