Seller of suicide kits sentenced on tax charges

May 7, 2012 - 2:30 PM

Suicide Kit Sentencing

FILE - In a May 26, 2011 file photo, Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, speaks to news media in El Cajon, Calif. Hydorn, who sold $40 helium kits for people to kill themselves, is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in San Diego on Monday, May 7, 2012 for failing to file federal tax returns on her earnings. (AP Photo/U-T San Diego, Peggy Peattie, File) SAN DIEGO COUNTY OUT; NO SALES; COMMERCIAL INTERNET OUT; FOREIGN OUT

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A 92-year-old Southern California woman who acknowledged selling kits intended to help people commit suicide has been sentenced to five years supervised probation for failing to file federal tax returns.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal also ordered Sharlotte Hydorn to not participate in any way in assisting suicides, including in the manufacture of devices or as an adviser to others on the subject.

The conviction was part of a plea deal reached between federal prosecutors and Hydorn after investigators raided her home last year in El Cajon, east of San Diego. She pleaded guilty to the tax charge, but under an agreement with prosecutors she will not be charged in state court with involvement in six suicides.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter J. Mazza said the government opted to prosecute the retired school teacher for tax evasion because they felt it was the best way to stop her.

There is no federal law regarding assisted suicides.

Prosecutors say she sold at least 1,300 kits across the United States and abroad. Most of them contacted her by mail or phone.

Mazza said the federal government never intended to use the case to take a position on assisted suicides, but instead wanted to address the "public risk" of Hydorn's "indiscriminate and un-thoughtful sale of suicide kits."

He said she had no idea whether her kits were being bought by people suffering from depression or by minors acting without the consent of an adult. One of those who committed suicide with her kit was a 19-year-old boy, Mazza said.

Investigators determined that the kits were sold to at least 50 people in San Diego County since 2007 and that four of those people last year used the kits to commit suicide. None was terminally ill, according to investigators.

Hydorn admitted in her plea deal that she manufactured the kits in her home and sold them for between $40 and $60, but has said she did so because she wanted to give the terminally ill the option to decide how they wanted to die.

Hydorn's kits included tubing, material for the hood and a user diagram. A needed helium source was not included.

Hydorn said after the sentencing that all she wanted to do was allow people to die at home, surrounded by family and friends.

The Spokane, Wash., native said she began making the kits after watching her husband, Rex, die of colon cancer in a hospital and hearing him say "home, home" for her to take him home to die, which she was unable to do.

"I wanted people to be able to die at home," she said outside the courthouse.

Hydorn felt she could design a helium hood that would be more comfortable for patients than the ones she saw individuals use to end their lives. She received "thousands" of orders for her hoods and began charging for her time and materials.

Agents who raided her home in suburban San Diego last year found checks that were not cashed and thousands of dollars in cash from buyers, her attorney said.

"To Ms. Hydorn, her involvement in the suicide kits was an act of compassion and not based on greed," her attorney Charles Goldberg wrote in court documents.

Hydorn has pleaded guilty to the tax charge dating back to 2007 and acknowledged that she made more than $150,000 in income from various sources during that period, including from the sale of helium kits.

The judge ordered her to work with the Internal Revenue Service on the amount she owes and pay accordingly. Prosecutors had recommended that Hydorn be ordered to pay more than $25,000 in restitution to the IRS.

The judge also ordered that she pay a $1,000 fine.

Before Monday's sentencing, Haydon faced a year in prison but neither the prosecution nor judge said that would be a consideration because of her age.

After her home was raided last year, Hydorn told The Associated Press that she had been in business for three years and sold up to 60 kits a month.

Hydorn said she sold the kits under the name "GLADD Group." In court, she admitted she made $66,717 in 2010 and paid no taxes on that.