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California woman pleads guilty in assisted suicide of veteran

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California woman was sentenced to probation on Friday for helping an 86-year-old World War Two veteran kill himself by mixing a lethal dose of Oxycontin into his yogurt even though he was not terminally ill or bedridden.

Elizabeth Barrett, 66, pleaded guilty and was given three years of probation instead of jail time based on her lack of a criminal record, her own illness and the wishes of the man's family, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

"I think Ms. Barrett chose to accept this plea bargain rather than fight the case because of her own medical issues, and the people (prosecutors) were reasonable and made a probationary offer," her attorney, Daryl Anthony, told Reuters following the hearing in Orange County Superior Court.

Anthony said his client was suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.

Barrett knew 86-year-old Jack Koency through a group of seniors who met regularly at a Starbucks near her home in Laguna Woods and was accused of planning the assisted suicide after meeting him there about a week before his 2011 death.

Koency suffered from depression that dated to his service in World War Two but was not terminally ill or bedridden.

Prosecutors say Barrett drove Koency to a branch of the Neptune Society, a cremation provider, to make his own funeral arrangements. She then bought yogurt, a bottle of brandy and heartburn medication to counter acid reflux that could be caused by taking large doses of Oxycontin, an opioid painkiller.

After driving him back to his apartment, Barrett crushed a lethal amount of Oxycontin and mixed it into the yogurt, which she gave to him, according to prosecutors. Koency then ate the yogurt, laid down on his bed and died.

After Koency died, Barrett removed his World War Two medals from the wall of his apartment and put them in her car before calling 911 to report that she had found him dead, prosecutors said.

Investigators say they found a videotape that showed her crushing the medication, mixing it in the yogurt and taking the medals off the wall. The videotape was recorded by a motion-activated camera in the apartment.

Authorities have said that Koency suffered from depression stemming from "some type of friendly fire incident" during the war and was estranged from his two daughters.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Lisa Shumaker)

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