Criminal Justice

Lawyer Charged in Dad's Murder Allegedly Used Forged Health Care Power of Attorney as Fatal Weapon

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As more details have been reported about a first-degree murder case against a Missouri lawyer accused of killing her father, it has become clear that Susan Elizabeth “Liz” Van Note is facing a highly unusual prosecution.

Her father, along with his longtime female companion, were shot to death at his home in 2010. But in addition to being charged in a Boone County indictment (PDF) with shooting her father, Van Note, 44, is accused of killing William Van Note, after he survived the shooting, by presenting his medical team with a forged durable power of attorney for health care.

Then, as the individual purportedly named by her father to make such decisions, she discontinued life-saving treatment for the 67-year-old, reports the Associated Press.

“It really does come down to murder by legal form,” law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University tells the Kansas City Star. “A fascinating case. I’ve never seen one like it.”

It appears from the indictment, which charges Susan Van Note with felony forgery and first-degree murder, that she either has been or may be charged with felony murder at some point. She has pleaded not guilty and is being held in lieu of $1 million cash-only bail. And, as observers have pointed out, the case effectively is being pursued as a felony murder, in which the defendant is charged with criminal responsibility for injuries that occurred as a result of the alleged commission of a felony.

A high school classmate and the classmate’s husband, who are co-defendants with Van Note in the case, face forgery and second-degree murder charges on a similar theory. Stacey Dory, 43, and Desre Dory, 42, also have pleaded not guilty and are being held in lieu of $250,000 bail, reports ABC 17 News. They are accused of witnessing the forged power of attorney.

“Since they were acting together with Susan Van Note, they committed a felony of forgery and as a result of that William Van Note died and therefore they are guilty of second degree murder, that’s what is alleged,” said prosecutor Brian Keedy of the Dorys at a hearing in the case. He added later, “We are alleging that it wasn’t his document, that it was created and transferred to the hospital, and on the basis of that document, they withdrew life support from him and he died as a result of that.”

Van Note’s lawyer, Tom Bath, says she produced a power of attorney without her father’s signature only because she couldn’t find the one he did sign, the Star reports.

“If this is all they have to go on, it’s pretty thin,” said Rod Uphoff. A law professor at the University of Missouri, he formerly worked as a public defender and represented Terry Nichol after the fatal 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the AP reports.

“Maybe the prosecution’s got more. But, by itself, it seems they’ve got a lot of work ahead,” said Uphoff.

Additional and related coverage: “Mo. Attorney Is Charged with 1st-Degree Murder After 2010 Slayings of Her Father and His Girlfriend” “Mo. Lawyer Charged in Dad’s Murder Accused of Using Forged Health Care POA to Deny Him Treatment”

Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog: “More on Lawyer Who Allegedly Killed Her Father by Forgery”

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