Kenneth Minor, 36, is accused of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of 52-year-old Jeffrey Locker. Minor says Locker asked to be killed in exchange for an ATM card.
"When you're paid money to kill another person ... that makes you a contract killer, a murderer," prosecutor Peter Casolaro said in his opening statement today. "This isn't a case about helping a close family member or friend."
Minor's defense attorney, Daniel Gotlin, countered: "Mr. Locker was the ultimate con man, a motivational speaker," he said. "This is an arrogant individual who used another person to end his life."
Minor reportedly admitted to killing Locker but claimed Locker had approached him at random and asked him to do it, in exchange for his ATM card. Minor said Locker told him he was deeply in debt and wanted to die so that his family could collect on an $18 million life insurance policy.
"It had to look like a robbery so that his family could get what they deserve," Minor said, according to court papers.
Minor said he attempted to choke Locker with a wire but it kept breaking, so Locker instructed him to use a knife.
"He said to hold it against the steering wheel with the blade facing him. I did that, and he leaned forward into the knife three to four times while I held it," Minor said. "He then told me to move the knife over to the other side where his heart is. I moved the knife over and he leaned forward into it a couple of more times. At that point, he was alive and breathing heavily. I got out of the car and threw the knife."
Last year, Gotlin asked Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman to order a grand jury to consider downgrading Minor's murder charge to a lesser charge of manslaughter. The request was denied.
It will be up to a jury to decide whether this is a homicide or an assisted suicide.
"If I were to argue this as a defense lawyer, I would tell the jury there is no malice aforethought," Mark Gottesman, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Santa Monica, Calif., told AOL News.
"The defendant was not angry and the decedent was encouraging the defendant to kill him," Gottesman said.
Gottesman said as a prosecutor, he would point out that the defendant was a hired hand, and that it is illegal in the U.S. to assist in a suicide.
"He knew he was going to kill the man," he said. "Of course the man wanted to die, but so what? Killing someone is killing someone and on top of it he's getting paid for it."
Surprisingly, several similar cases have captured headlines in the U.S. and have had varying outcomes.
Franklin "Buddy" Taylor: In March 1984, Sgt. Franklin Taylor, a 15-year veteran of the Youngstown Police Department in Ohio, was found dead in his patrol car. Taylor, 41, had been shot three times in the head. At the time of his death, the officer was under investigation by another police department for allegedly stealing $6 in merchandise from a department store.
Shortly after Taylor's homicide, authorities arrested 28-year-old Stanley Woodbridge and charged him with aggravated murder in the case. Woodbridge denied any involvement.
According to court testimony, Taylor was depressed and had shopped around for someone to kill him.
Woodbridge's defense attorney, James Gentile, interviewed a police detective named Cosmo Santillo in court, The Youngstown Vindicator reported.
"Have you developed a theory about how this killing took place? That Buddy Taylor, in effect, was down on his luck and committed suicide and Stanley Woodbridge assisted him in his suicide?" Gentile asked.
"That," Santillo said, "is where it leads to, yes."
A grand jury found there was insufficient evidence in the case and all charges against Woodbridge were dropped.
Reggie Williams: On Nov. 24, 1993, Williams, 20, killed 50-year-old Susan Potempa in the garage of her Summit, Ill., home. Following his arrest, Williams told police that Potempa, a breast cancer patient who was in severe pain, had paid him more than $2,000 to kill her.
"She asked me to tie her hands up with the duct tape so it would look like somebody came in and tied her up and tried to rob her," Williams told police, according to the Chicago Tribune. "After I tied her hands up, she turned around with her back towards me, and I proceeded to grab her by the neck with my arm."
Williams then described how he beat Potempa to death with a power drill.
In February 1996, Williams pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He faced up to 60 years but the judge, citing a lack of criminal history, sentenced him to 26 years in prison.
Christopher Murray: In April 1996, Murray, 21, was arrested for the murder of Robert Levy, a well-known theater producer from Miami Beach, Fla. Levy's partially decomposed body had been found behind a restroom at a Delray Beach park. An autopsy revealed the 27-year-old had been strangled.
Murray was identified as a suspect early on. He initially denied any involvement but later confessed, telling police that Levy, who had been diagnosed with HIV at the age of 15, had paid him $1,000 to kill him.
"He said the victim paid him to kill him in some type of suicide thing," Delray Beach Detective Robert Stevens said in an April 26, 1996, interview with The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
In Minor's case, Gottesman thinks the defense does have a chance. In his opinion, proving murder will be a bit of a stretch.
"The underpinning of it is this guy allegedly said, 'Please kill me,' and his intentions were to screw the insurance company," Gottesman said. "I can see a charge of aiding and abetting insurance fraud or manslaughter at the very most. But murder? That is a tough one. From the sounds of it, this guy was going to die one way or the other."
Testimony in Minor's trial is expected to continue Friday.