Assisted Suicide

Minneapolis officials insist police did everything by the book before Clay Fingerman killed himself. But nobody wants to talk about the shotgun left by his door.

According to Boyd, the memorial became "the most important passion of Clay's recent life." But Fingerman had also become increasingly frustrated with his inability to meet the memorial's goal of raising $1 million by year's end. "He didn't deal well with failure. And when he felt he was failing, that brought out the dark side," Boyd explains. During the last year of his life Fingerman's behavior became increasingly erratic, marred by severe bouts of depression, infidelity, and frequent talk of suicide. "Clay fundamentally did not believe he deserved to be alive," Boyd observes. "His HIV treatment was very expensive, and it was keeping him healthy. But every month, when he saw the bills, he'd say, 'What am I doing to warrant consuming this much money? I should be doing something brilliant for society.' Clay was two different people. He had a very dark side and he had a light side, and the two sides fought continuously with each other. There were moments when he'd be brilliant, and you'd be amazed just listening to him talk. And there were other times when he'd be an idiot."

By the time Boyd broke off his relationship with Fingerman this past November, the downward slide was in full motion. Unhappy about the failed romance, Fingerman had also grown increasingly preoccupied with his appearance. "Clay was a beautiful man, but he was very vain. And he was approaching 40, and when you're approaching 40, whether you're HIV-positive or not, you start to lose some of that," Boyd says. "His looks were his most prized possession. He did not want to get old. He didn't want to age, and--to use the term--become a tired old queen." In addition, Boyd says, a round of blood tests last fall showed a spike in Fingerman's viral load, which for years had remained nearly undetectable. Fingerman interpreted that development as a sign of his certain decline, and his mood grew darker still.

 

At the same time as Fingerman's life began to fall apart, Jim Erickson was struggling. After ten years of sobriety, he suffered a brief relapse. Feeling isolated, he leapt at the chance to reconnect with his former partner, who had invited him to attend an AIDS Memorial benefit at Bobino Cafe and Wine Bar in northeast Minneapolis. Fingerman briefly addressed the assembled crowd that night, but seemed out of sorts and under the influence. "He wasn't speaking loudly enough, and he wasn't making much sense. He ended by saying something like, 'I'm the luckiest guy in the world,'" Erickson recalls. "He came over to me afterwards and gave me a big hug. And I told him, 'I think you're really in trouble. If you ever need a safe place to stay, you can come to my house.'"

A few weeks later, in late November, Erickson received a note from Fingerman, asking whether he could take care of his dog, Brandy. When he dropped Brandy off, the dog was underweight and "not in the best condition," Erickson remembers. Then, on December 18, Erickson says, Fingerman showed up on his doorstep. Erickson was shocked. In the years since their breakup Fingerman had worked to build up his body, but now he looked like a skeleton with muscles. Erickson attributed the changes to the multiple drugs Fingerman was taking; an array of hormones, stimulants, and steroids designed to counteract the effects of the AIDS cocktail, along with an antidepressant. "He was just a mess," Erickson says. "He was shaking and severely toxic.

"He asked me whether I was serious about my offer. And I said, Of course. When he came into the house, he was carrying a duffel bag. He set it down on the floor and he pulled out this shotgun and said, 'We've gotten to be really good friends, this gun and I.'" For the first two days Fingerman clung to the gun like a security blanket. Then, while he was sleeping, Erickson managed to snatch the shotgun from Fingerman's side and ferry it to John Early's house. At first, Erickson says, Fingerman said nothing, but--seeming agitated--began searching the house high and low. Then, quite suddenly, his whole demeanor seemed to lighten. At Erickson's encouragement, Fingerman made an appointment to see his therapist. He put down a $300 deposit for a membership at U.S. Swim and Fitness. He even called his father, Milton Fingerman, to assure him all was well. (An eminent marine biologist living in New Orleans, Milton Fingerman declined to speak about his son's death, saying only that he's "not interested in pursuing the matter." His mother is deceased.) Today Erickson recognizes Fingerman's improved mood as a that of a suicidal person who had simply made up his mind to die. At the time, though, he was less well versed on the subject. He just thought his old friend has started to round the corner.

On the evening of December 22, Erickson decided Fingerman was well enough to accompany him to a company Christmas party. At the party Fingerman seemed himself again, comfortably mixing with the crowd. Erickson and Fingerman both consumed drinks. "It was stupid, and I'll regret it till the day I die," Erickson says now. They stayed at the party for about four hours before returning to Erickson's home and splitting a bottle of wine. As the night wore on, they stayed up, laughing and talking until about 4:00 a.m., when, Erickson remembers, Fingerman made a sexual proposition that involved bondage, something the couple had never done together. "Clay had gotten really into deep dark rough stuff, and I told him that's not love. After that, he just kept saying, 'There is no hope. Dreams can't come true. Go to the bedroom and leave me alone,'" Erickson recalls. "I knew I couldn't reach him anymore. He had told me earlier that he still had two guns hidden somewhere, and I wasn't about to leave him alone."

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