A registered nurse from Arizona has been charged with murder in the death of her friend, who she allegedly helped die by injecting him with drugs.
Kristie Jane Koepplin, 58, is facing one felony count of murder after allegedly partaking in her friend Matthew Peter Sokalski’s assisted suicide, authorities said. She’s pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. Koepplin was arrested in Maricopa County, Arizona, on Oct. 15.
Her friend, who was supposedly depressed following a breakup, allegedly asked Koepplin to end his life. Sokalski’s body was found by law enforcement in a Mission Viejo hotel room by staff on April 6, 2018. The small commuter city is located in Saddleback Valley, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
“California’s right to die law strictly governs the conditions under which terminally ill adult patients with the capacity to make medical decisions can be prescribed an aid-in-dying medication,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement.
“That was not the case here,” he added. “It is beyond disturbing that someone who is trained as a nurse to aid the sick and the dying would twist their duty to willingly end the life of another human being.”
It’s unclear if Koepplin had been actively working as a nurse at the time of her arrest, or what drug or mixture of drugs led to Sokalski’s death. Police records on the case are currently sealed and authorities in both California and Arizona also declined to comment further on the case.
“Because of the nature of the case and the seriousness of it, we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the prosecution,” Kimberly Edds, a public information officer for the Orange County District Attorney, told Oxygen.com.
However, the woman’s lawyer, Michael Guisti, insisted his client was innocent.
“Their case rests ultimately on inferences made by what they found in the room,” Guisti told KNBC. “They have no substantial evidence linking my client to the victim's death. We're fighting vigorously because my client is innocent.”
In another interview with the Washington Post, Guisti described prosecutors’ allegations against his client “a huge leap of faith.” He referred to the case as having an “‘angel of death’ aura around it.”
“My client just didn’t do this,” he also said.
Just months after Sokalski’s death, an appellate court in the state reinstated California’s right-to-die law, which gives terminally ill patients with less than six months to live the right to ask for a lethal injection, the Post also reported.
The 58-year-old registered nurse from Peoria, Arizona, has since returned to California and posted a $1 million bail. Koepplin could spend a maximum of 25 years to life behind bars if she’s convicted in Sokalski’s death. Koepplin is scheduled back in court for a pre-trial hearing on Jan. 7.
A spokesperson for the Orange County District Attorney’s office said that Koepplin is prohibited from practicing nursing in California and that she’s not allowed to leave the state while her case is pending.
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