UPDATE: AP Interview: Ex-leader of suicide ring vows fight

Posted: Updated:
Former leader will defend actions

UPDATE: March 17

ATLANTA -- The former president of the Georgia-based group at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into assisted suicide says he hopes his trial will be a test case validating the "right-to-die" movement.

Ted Goodwin tells The Associated Press he is "prepared to go forward and defend this vigorously." The comments are his first extensive remarks since his arrest last month.

Goodwin and three other members of the Final Exit Network are charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and violating racketeering laws in the death of a 58-year-old man.

Goodwin says the group has helped guide just under 200 people to their deaths since it started in 2004. But he says the network never actively assisted suicide, instead offering people support in their final hours.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

ORIGINAL STORY: "Assisted Suicide" group being investigated in Phoenix

PHOENIX -- The following is a press release from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office:

County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced that detectives from his office today are assisting law enforcement agencies across the country in executing search warrants as part of an investigation into an organization called the "Final Exit Network.

Police agencies in Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri and Montana, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are investigating the organization and its role in possible homicides in multiple states.

Search warrants were served today at 14 sites nationwide. The April 2007 death of Jana Van Voorhis prompted an investigation by the Phoenix Police Department.

Detectives from the County Attorney's Office investigated further, interviewing witnesses in Maryland and New Jersey.

County Attorney detectives reached out to agencies in other jurisdictions and helped to facilitate a broader national investigation into Final Exit.

Evidence suggests that two members of the Final Exit Network may have assisted with the suicide of Van Voorhis in Phoenix. The victim was not terminally ill but suffered from mental illness and depression.

The investigations turned up detailed records of visits so-called Final Exit Guides had with Van Voorhis in preparation for her death.

Van Voorhis had relatives in the Valley who had been caring for her, but those relatives were not contacted by the Final Exit Network prior to her death.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also looking at another incident involving the Final Exit Network. Officials with this agency sent investigators to Phoenix to speak with detectives from the County Attorney's Office and the Phoenix Police.

Similar incidents involving the Final Exit Network elsewhere in the United States have led to search warrants being executed nationwide, including at the organization's office in Georgia.

Commander Mark Stribling and other veteran detectives in the County Attorney's Office assisted with service of some of these search warrants.

Commander Stribling and another detective assisted in executing three warrants today in Baltimore, Maryland, at the home and office of Dr. Larry Egbert, the medical director of Final Exit Network, and at the home of a so-called exit guide.

Other search warrants were executed today at the homes of "exit guides" in Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Colorado, and at a Montana company called NuLife Products, where materials were purchased that were used in "assisted suicides."

"This national investigation is necessary and appropriate," said Thomas. "Our office will work alongside these police agencies across the country to determine if crimes were committed in Maricopa County."

Prosecutors in the County Attorney's Office will review evidence gained from these search warrants and from the investigation in Maricopa County to determine whether to seek charges related to the death of Van Voorhis.

Thomas said his office hopes to complete the investigation and make charging decisions in the next 60 days. Thomas also asked that people in the community who believe they or a loved one may have been victimized by this organization to contact his office.