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Rev. George Exoo’s Extradition Verdict Delayed;
Judge Deliberates Fine Points of International Extradition Law

Beckley, West Virginia, USA
Friday, August 17, 2007

After a lengthy presentation by lawyers prosecuting and defending The Reverend George David Exoo, a Unitarian minister, U.S. District Magistrate Judge R. Clarke VanDervort told all parties that it would take “at least two weeks” to review the complicated points of international law that he must consider before deciding whether Exoo will be extradited to Ireland. Whatever he decides will set a precedent, so he is paying extremely close attention to every facet of this complicated case.

Exoo, his hair neatly combed, wore a prison-issued orange jump suit with one leg torn open, rubber flip-flops, and leg shackles and was led into court by two federal marshals. As he entered, he smiled warmly, with tears of gratitude in his eyes for the support of the eighteen friends, colleagues, and fellow ministers who filled the seats in the small courtroom. No representatives of the Irish government were present. The one Irish media reporter, a freelance correspondent hired by Radio Telefís Éiran, left halfway through the hearing, before either attorney had made his closing summation and before Judge VanDervort made his ruling.

Exoo, a Harvard Divinity School graduate, is an ordained Unitarian minister and has been the pastor of several Unitarian-Universalist congregations, including that of the Unitarian Church of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1977-1987. He was a founder of The Compassionate Chaplaincy Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization devoted to helping people achieve death with dignity.

He was present in Dublin, Ireland, on January 25, 2002, at the request of Rosemary Toole, who took her own life that night. Toole, who suffered from Cushing’s disease and profound depression, had actively planned to commit suicide for several years. She took a large overdose of sleeping pills and then donned a plastic hood connected to a tank of helium. The combination resulted in a painless death within minutes. She learned everything she needed to know about her method of suicide from the international best-selling book Final Exit, by Derek Humphry, founder of The Hemlock Society USA.

Exoo’s attorney, Edward H. Weis, from the U.S. Public Defender’s Office, pointed out that his client did not “assist” the suicide in any way because he did not furnish any information or supplies to Toole. She contacted Exoo herself and paid his way to Dublin to provide a compassionate presence to pray with her as she took her life. Since all actions were performed by Toole not Exoo, argued Weis, his client in no way assisted in her suicide.

Exoo previously had noted that every year, hundreds of ministers routinely provide a compassionate spiritual presence and pray with dying people who have ordered that their life support be discontinued. “If comforting and praying with a dying person is a sin or a crime, then most of the ministers, priests, and rabbis in America, Ireland, and the rest of the world must be sinners, criminals, or both” Exoo said.

The controversy over Exoo’s actions began in 2004, when the Irish government requested that he be extradited for having allegedly violated Irish law, which identifies “assisting a suicide” as a felony punishable by up to fourteen years in jail. The U.S. extradition treaty with Ireland states that the law allegedly violated in the foreign country must also be a felony in the U.S. Currently, the federal government does not define suicide or assisting a suicide as a crime, nor does the State of West Virginia, where Exoo resides.

Philip H. Wright, Assistant U.S. Attorney, who represented the Republic of Ireland, argued that because neither the U.S. nor West Virginia defines assisted suicide as a crime, then the determination must be made whether “a preponderance of states” – at least twenty-six out of fifty – define it a crime. This means that Exoo’s extradition hangs on the complicated interpretation of all suicide and assisted suicide laws in each of the fifty states.

Exoo was denied bail and was returned to the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, West Virginia, pending a final ruling.

Richard N. Côté,
Media representative for The Reverend George David Exoo, S.T.B.
High resolution images and media interviews with Exoo colleagues on request.
Telephone: (843) 881-6080 USA
Email dickcote@earthlink.net

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