Was it mercy killing?
I flew to Manila over the July 4th weekend to testify as a witness in a Quezon City courtroom on July 6 to authenticate the deposition I did of Mary Ann Laurel in my San Francisco law office close to seven years ago.
She has been charged with “parricide” for the murder of her former husband, Mario Laurel, after allegedly directing her son, Patrick Laurel, to turn off Mario’s life support system when he was in a coma at the Capitol Medical Center on September 2, 2007, causing his immediate death. Part of the evidence against her were the admissions she made in that civil deposition.
The deposition I conducted of Mary Ann Laurel on August 22, 2008 was in connection with the civil lawsuit she filed in Santa Clara County on March 24, 2008 alleging that her ex-in laws — the brother and three sisters of Mario Laurel — had defamed her by accusing her of murdering their brother. The Laurel siblings retained me to defend them in that civil action.
In the course of my whole day deposition of Mary Ann Laurel, she admitted under penalty of perjury, that:
- She had twice married Joseph Timbol. The first time in 1981, three years after she started working as a flight attendant for Kuwaiti Airways, and the second time on June 7, 1984. Neither of her marriages to Timbol was ever annulled before she married Mario Laurel.
- She married Mario Laurel in Reno, Nevada on December 14, 1985. At the time, Mario was a U.S. postal worker who had been previously married and divorced from Rosalyn Velasquez. Mario, a U.S. citizen, then petitioned Mary Ann to be a U.S. immigrant. She is now an American citizen.
- She filed her petition for divorce from Mario Laurel in Santa Clara County Superior Court on July 28, 2006 after they had been separated for more than a year. Mario was in the Philippines when he was served with the divorce papers, which he did not contest. The final judgment of dissolution was granted on June 14, 2007.
- A week after her divorce from Mario, Mary Ann married Joseph Timbol for the third time in Reno, Nevada on June 22, 2007.
After quitting his job as a postman, Mario moved back to the Philippines in 2005. On August 24, 2007, Mario was brought to San Juan De Dios Hospital in Pasay City because of high fever and difficulty breathing. Mario’s sisters, Henedina Laurel-Velasco and Isabelita Laurel-Rand, transferred him to Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City where he then suffered cardiac arrest on August 30, 2007 and went into a coma after he was revived.
On August 31, 2007, Mary Ann and her daughter, Bianca, arrived in Manila to join her son, Patrick, who was already in the Philippines. They then proceeded to the hospital where Mario was confined and, with a lawyer, Mary Ann asserted to Mario’s two sisters that she had “full charge and authority” over Mario and prohibited them from entering the hospital room of their brother. The two sisters reluctantly complied even though they protested that Mary Ann was already divorced from Mario and that she was already married to Timbol.
Pulling the plug
According to the affidavit of Isabelita Laurel-Rand, she returned to the hospital room of Mario on September 2, 2007 despite Mary Ann’s ban. While in the hospital room, she witnessed a nurse hand a piece of paper to Mary Ann, which she then handed over to Patrick who read the paper and who then asked her, “What shall I write as reason?” Mary Ann replied, “To prevent prolonging the agony,” which Patrick then dutifully wrote on the paper.
After Patrick signed the “Waiver of Diagnostic Procedures and/or Medical Treatment” hospital form, the nurse asked Isabelita and Bianca to sign as witnesses, which they did. According to Isabelita’s affidavit, she saw the nurse return to her nurse’s station and then saw Patrick “walk to the life support system attached to Mario. At the machine, Patrick hesitated and queried “But Mom, isn’t this murder?” Bianca also voiced out, “Isn’t it that there are some people, after 10 years come out of their coma?”
In her affidavit, Isabelita recalled what happened next: “Mary Ann sternly retorted, ‘Just do it’ to Patrick and ignored Bianca’s remark. Thereupon, Patrick switched off the machine, its lights went off, and then the monitor went flat — Mario was gone.”
Isabelita said that she then “rushed out of the ICU room while crying, called my sisters to inform them that Mario’s life support system had been switched off and that our dear brother had passed away.”
Collecting insurance proceeds
After Mario’s death, Mary Ann obtained certified copies of his death certificate, which she furnished to his life insurance carriers. In my deposition of Mary Ann on August 22, 2008, I asked her how many insurance policies Mario had with her as the sole beneficiary. She first declined to answer, but her lawyer, William P. Daley, answered that there were two. When I asked her how much they were for, she replied, “You know, I didn’t know.” Upon further prodding, she said, “It was half a million.” That was for the first policy. And for the second? “The other one was 1.2”
Mary Ann Laurel had collected $1.7 million dollars from Mario’s two insurance policies. In her deposition, I asked Mary Ann if she had disclosed to the insurance companies that she had already divorced Mario. She answered, “Well, they never ask me.”
Mary Ann’s admissions in her 2008 deposition, which was contained in a 365-page binder, formed the basis for my successful motion to dismiss the defamation causes of action she had filed against my clients. More significantly, they provided the factual information that resulted in the subsequent filing of criminal charges.
On May 20, 2010, Assistant City Prosecutor Romana Del Rosario filed a criminal Information against Patrick Laurel and Mary Ann M. Timbol charging that “on or about the 2nd day of Sept, 2007, in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused Patrick Laurel, being the son of the deceased Mario Banaad Laurel, with intent to kill, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously remove the life support system of the said Mario Banaad Laurel, upon instructions of the accused Mary Ann M. Timbol, the legitimate spouse of the deceased, and by withholding of medical treatment by respondent Patrick Laurel, which resulted to the death of the victim.”
The investigation of the Department of Justice as contained in its Resolution determined that “a thorough examination of the record failed to mention any particular physician who rendered a categorical declaration – from the scientific point of view – that Mario was clinically dead nor a recovery from the coma is nil. Taking the foregoing into account, it is apparent that although in a coma at the time, Mario was alive, scientifically and biologically. He expired due to cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure when the mechanical ventilator attached to him was turned off.”
Motive is irrelevant
The Resolution explained: “In this legal jurisdiction, it is not for any person to decide when a man or a woman is ‘ripe’ for the taking or killing while he or she is in a coma. Euthanasia in the Philippines as in the instant case is still murder… A good motive is not incompatible with an unlawful intent. One may be convicted of a crime whether his motive appears to be good or bad or even though no motive is proven. A good motive does not prevent an act from being a crime.”
Even though the murder charge was filed in 2010, Mary Ann was only arrested on April 5, 2015 when she was about to board a return flight to San Francisco. She had apparently been in the United States since 2007 and had not returned to Manila until March of 2015.
Mary Ann Laurel has been incarcerated in a Quezon City jail since then and held without bail, awaiting trial. Her lawyer, Marlon Alexander Cruz, told ABS-CBN News reporter Christian Esguerra that there is “no iota of truth” to any of the allegations against his client.
But it is undisputed that it was Patrick Laurel who turned off the life support ventilator system that kept Mario alive and that he did so at the direction of his mother.
The problem for Cruz and his client is that mercy killing or euthanasia is not legal in the Philippines. In the U.S., where it is legal, there are strict hospital protocols that have to be followed before the hospital can “pull the plug” on a patient.
Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Fox News legal expert, explained that “the law in New York says if two physicians decide the patient is in a ‘hopelessly vegetative state,’ and no natural or unnatural means are likely to return the patient to a cognitive state, and the patient’s representative agrees, then the medical center may terminate life support.”
Before I testified in the Quezon City courtroom on July 6, a medico-legal expert, Dr. Rodel V. Capule, informed the court that his review of the hospital records of Mario Laurel at the Capitol Medical Center disclosed that Mario’s vital signs were still in good order and that he was neither brain dead nor in a vegetative state when his life support system was turned off.
So even if Mario Laurel had been in a coma and confined in a New York hospital, it would still have been a crime for Patrick Laurel to “pull the plug.”
This would be true even if it were simply done “to prevent prolonging his agony” and not for the purpose of collecting $1.7 million in insurance proceeds. The “mercy killing” of Mario Laurel on September 2, 2007 was still a killing and it was still a crime.
If Mary Ann Laurel is somehow acquitted of the parricide charge, a precedent may be set effectively legalizing euthanasia in the Philippines.
(Send comments to [email protected] or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).
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