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Right-to-die group wants money back
Final Exit accused of aiding in death
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Forsyth County News
An organization accused of helping a Cumming man end his life has challenged whether the state can continue to hold funds seized from the group without a hearing.

Don Samuel, an attorney who represents the Final Exit Network, told Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley that the group wants to recover the more than $330,000 seized in February.

Bagley said he will issue a ruling on the request within the next few days.

“I’m going to take it under advisement and consider this as an applied Constitutional challenge to the statute,” Bagley said.

Final Exit is a Marietta-based right-to-die organization.

Two people with ties to the group — Claire Blehr, 76, of Atlanta and Thomas E. Goodwin, 63, of Kennesaw and Florida — were arrested in February in connection with the assisted suicide of 58-year-old Thomas Celmer of Cumming.

According to the group’s Web site, Goodwin is a former president. Authorities have said Blehr was a volunteer.

Alleged members Lawrence D. Egbert, 81, and Nicholas Sheridan, 60, both of Maryland, were also arrested in connection with Celmer’s death.

All four suspects were charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act.

They have not been indicted on the charges.

The case is believed to be the first in Georgia involving assisted suicide.

Celmer died June 20, 2008, at his Jasmine Court home.

The case launched a nationwide probe into the group’s activities.

Tuesday morning’s hearing centered around the RICO violation.

Citing the act, Samuel told Bagley there should have been a hearing about two weeks after the money was seized. Instead, the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office still has not filed a complaint to take the money from the group as a result of illegal activity.

“It is our contention here that statutorily and constitutionally they can not do this,” Samuel said. “You don’t get to seize first and litigate later.”

Samuel said prosecutors in other states have also seized money belonging to the organization.

He said the money came from donations, which the group needs to continue advocating for assisted suicide rights.

“The prosecution just seized the money so they can’t go to the legislature, they can’t speak,” Samuel said.

Assistant District Attorney James Dunn argued that the state took the funds from the organization’s operating accounts, but left $300,000 to $400,000 of Final Exit’s money. He also said the group remains operational, sending out press releases.

“(Celmer’s) widow is still receiving flyers for donations,” Dunn said. “She got one last month.”

The prosecution has more than 30 boxes of evidence to sift through, though Dunn said he has not received the complete case file from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In addition, he argued that Goodwin is affiliated with the World Federation of Right to Die Societies and through his international connections the money could be moved and hidden elsewhere.

“The state has to know that these assets that are used in a pattern of racketeering are going to be there,” he said.

Dunn said the state’s complaint against Final Exit will be filed by December.

“We intend to show all this money was realized and derived from a pattern of racketeering,” Dunn said.

Celmer’s death reportedly was ruled asphyxia suffocation as a result of inhaling helium, according to a 29-page affidavit filed in Forsyth County Superior Court. It said Celmer’s death was ruled a homicide.

The document said Celmer’s wife found Final Exit paperwork on his computer and Final Exit books in a room after his death.

In addition, she discovered a typed letter, dated May 1, 2008, indicating Celmer wanted to pursue a “helium-induced methodology for the purposes of coordinating my demise.”

The letter was addressed to Sheridan and appeared to seek help from Final Exit, the affidavit said.