SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A 93-year-old woman who made headlines by selling suicide kits from her California home was placed on five years of supervised probation on Monday and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for a tax-related offense stemming from her mail-order business.
Sharlotte Hydorn, a great-grandmother and retired science teacher, pleaded guilty in December to a federal charge of failing to file income tax returns from 2007 through 2010, a period during which investigators said at least seven customers used her kits to kill themselves.
Prosecutors said Hydorn sold about 1,300 of the do-it-yourself asphyxiation hoods during those years but agreed to stop making or selling them as part of a plea deal.
Hydorn gained notoriety after one of her mail-order customers in Oregon, Nicholas Klonoski, 29, described by his family as suffering from depression but otherwise healthy, used an “exit kit” to kill himself in December 2010.
Outrage over that case led Oregon state lawmakers to pass legislation to ban sales of such devices, even though Oregon is one of two U.S. states with laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide for people with incurable, fatal illnesses.
The San Diego County district attorney, who was a party to the settlement, agreed not to prosecute Hydorn for her role in any of the six known deaths that occurred in California.
But the federal judge who sentenced Hydorn in San Diego rendered a finding that her suicide kit business was illegal under California law.
Hydorn was prosecuted under the U.S. tax code because “the sale of suicide kits is not a violation of federal law,” assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Mazza said after the sentencing.
“This case was never about the position that someone has the right to end their own life. This was about her indiscriminate sale of kits to anyone who wrote her a check.”
Hydorn has said her product was intended to help terminally ill people end their lives with dignity at home.
The kits, priced at $60 each including instructions and shipping, consisted of a plastic hood that closed around the neck, and tubing that connected the hood to a tank of gas.
Hydorn acknowledged selling the kits over the past 20 years, but insisted that she made little money from the enterprise. The government estimated she grossed $40,000 from the sales.
Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson