Ohio hospital shooting: Mercy killing or murder?
Cleveland: John Wise watched a tear roll down his wife's face as he stood alongside her bed in the intensive care unit. She'd been unable to speak after suffering a stroke and seemed to be blinking to acknowledge him, Wise confided to a friend who had driven him to the hospital.
The couple had been married 45 years and Wise told his friend that they had agreed long ago they didn't want to live out their years bedridden and disabled.
So a week after Barbara Wise's stroke, investigators say, her husband fired a single round into her head. She died the next day, leading prosecutors to charge the 66-year-old man with aggravated murder on Wednesday in what police suspect was a mercy killing.
The shooting leaves authorities in a dilemma some experts say will happen with greater frequency in coming years as the baby boom generation ages, what is the appropriate punishment when a relative kills a loved one to end their suffering?
More often than not, a husband who kills an ailing wife never goes to trial and lands a plea deal with a sentence that carries no more than a few years in prison, research has shown. In some instances, there are no charges.
"It's a tragedy all around that the law really isn't designed to address," said Mike Benza, who teaches law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
A New York man in March was sentenced to six months in jail after suffocating his 98-year-old disabled mother and slitting his own wrists. He told authorities he had just been told he had cancer and believed he was going to die soon, and feared no one would care for his mom. A Washington state man accused of shooting his terminally ill wife this year told investigators she had begged him to kill her; he is free on bail while prosecutors weigh charges.
Almost always, there are deeper issues involved with the accused, including depression, their own health problems and the stress of taking care of a dying spouse, said Donna Cohen, head of the Violence and Injury Prevention Program at the University of South Florida.
Seeing a dying or disabled spouse suffering can be enough to push someone over the edge, said Cohen, who is writing a book called "Caregivers Who Kill”.
"Men will hit a wall when they can't do anything else," she said. "That's usually a trigger."
She worries this will happen more often with longer life expectancies and a continuing shortage of mental health services for older people.