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California woman charged with helping WWII veteran commit suicide

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California woman was charged on Wednesday with helping an 86-year-old World War Two veteran she met at Starbucks kill himself by mixing a lethal dose of Oxycontin into his yogurt, prosecutors said.

Elizabeth Barrett, 66, was charged with one count of assisted suicide. She was being held in lieu of $25,000 bail pending an arraignment in Orange County Superior Court and faces a maximum prison term of three years if convicted.

Barrett knew Jack Koency, 86, through a group of seniors who met regularly at a neighborhood Starbucks and was accused of planning the assisted suicide after meeting him there again about a week before his death last September.

Koency suffered from depression that dated to his service in World War Two but was not terminally ill or bedridden, Orange County Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh said.

"They reconnected back at Starbucks. He was depressed and wanted to commit suicide, and she was happy and eager to help," Baytieh told Reuters. "She kind of presents herself as a private social worker and I think she told him, 'I can help you.'"

Barrett is accused of driving Koency to make his own funeral arrangements before purchasing yogurt, a bottle of brandy and over-the-counter heartburn medication to counter acid reflux that could be caused by taking large doses of Oxycontin.

After driving Koency back to his apartment, Barrett crushed a lethal amount of Oxycontin and mixed it into the yogurt, which she gave to him, prosecutors say. Koency ate the yogurt, laid down on his bed and died, according to prosecutors.

After Koency died, Barrett removed his World War Two medals from the wall of his apartment and put them in her car, then waited awhile before calling 911 to report that she had discovered him deceased, prosecutors said.

Baytieh said investigators became suspicious after Barrett's initial statements "did not make sense" and ultimately found a videotape that showed her crushing the medication, mixing it in the yogurt and taking the medals off the wall.

The videotape was recorded by a motion-activated camera in the apartment.

Baytieh said there was no evidence to suggest that Barrett, who once worked in a hospital but has no medical degree, forced Koency to eat the yogurt. He declined to say what she told investigators following her arrest.

The prosecutor said Koency, who suffered from depression stemming from "some type of friendly fire incident" during the war, was estranged from his two daughters.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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