NEW YORK (AP) — A man whose chance encounter with a despondent stranger led to a stabbing he called assisted suicide pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter after his murder conviction was overturned in a case that questioned the boundary between killing someone and helping him kill himself.
But Kenneth Minor plans to appeal further, aiming to challenge a procedural issue that arose after his initial conviction was overturned. Minor's lawyer argues his client's crime amounts to a lesser degree of manslaughter than the first-degree charge to which he pleaded guilty, and he hopes a new appeal will position the case for new consideration of that argument.
For now, Minor has been promised a 12-year prison term, considerably less than the 20 years to life he had been serving on his 2011 murder conviction in the death of motivational speaker and self-help author Jeffrey Locker. Minor, 42, has served more than five years so far.
"He wants this to be over. He knows he did something wrong," and has long been willing to admit to second-degree manslaughter, said his lawyer, Daniel Gotlin.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, and Locker's family, declined to comment Monday.
Under New York law, "causing or aiding" a suicide is a form of second-degree manslaughter punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. First-degree manslaughter, by contrast, entails intending serious injury to someone, among other provisions.
Minor said he helped the financially troubled Locker kill himself after Locker approached him on a Harlem street in 2009, seeking help staging his death as a robbery, so his family would be able to collect his life insurance. Minor was arrested a few days later after using Locker's ATM card, which he said Locker offered him as compensation.
"In the end, Mr. Locker is where he wanted to be," Minor said at his 2011 sentencing. "I'm no animal, and I ain't got no malice in my heart."
Locker, 52, was deep in debt and fearing ruin, according to letters he'd written to a federal bankruptcy court. Investigators found that in his final months he'd bought about $14 million in life insurance, researched funeral arrangements and sent his wife an email explaining how she could shield assets when he was "gone."
Prosecutors have said Minor did more than help Locker take his own life.
"This was murder for money, not a mercy killing," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in 2011. Prosecutors said Minor stabbed Locker in his car; Minor said he only held a knife while the self-help expert repeatedly lunged into it.
An appeals court ruled in October 2013 that the now-retired trial judge had misinterpreted the law in a way that effectively left jurors no choice but to convict Minor of murder.
The case cast criminal laws surrounding assisted suicide in the unusual light of strangers agreeing to feign a street crime, rather than doctors or relatives helping end the lives of terminally ill people. While rare, there have been some previous criminal cases involving people playing roles in the deaths of acquaintances who weren't terminally sick.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.