86-year-old George Sanders killed his sick wife. He shot her in the head, though she did not die right away (she died later in the hospital). All of these are facts. He never denied it and he never said otherwise. But this case is not like other murder cases.
Of course, it does start with an arrest. Sanders was arrested last fall. But then the twist. He says his wife, Virginia, 81, begged him to kill her after developing gangrene in her foot following years of sickness. Yesterday, after emotional testimony from children who loved both their parents deeply, a judge agreed and sentenced the ailing octogenarian to probation only.
Initially charged with first-degree murder, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors, but still faced a sentence of up to 12 years. But it was his family's support in the courtroom that turned it all around. And his own testimony. See below for what he said when he testified:
Your honor, I met Ginger when she was 15 years old and I've loved her since she was 15 years old. I loved her when she was 81 years old. It was a blessing, and I was happy to take care of her. I am sorry for all the grief and pain and sorrow I've caused people.
I think my heart broke a little reading these words. This is true love. And it's also true that there is a time when love and compassion means helping someone make their own decisions about their own life.
His wife had lived for years with multiple sclerosis and, according to testimony, he brought her to every appointment, doted on her, and basically did everything he could to care for her. By all accounts, he was madly in love with his wife in a way that few couples can ever say is true. He did everything for her.
The idea that he should have to prove that in court or explain why his love led him to do this horrific act is pretty reprehensible. One family member after the other attested to this love. I have to imagine that the judge had never seen a case quite like it. In fact, Judge John Ditsworth said his decision to give him two years probation "tempers justice with mercy."
In this country, we do not allow people to die with dignity. We do not allow them to choose their own way to go. So we force people like Sanders to make impossible, painful decisions.
It is a complete and total tragedy, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. For all the pain the "murder" caused, I can't even imagine how a man who loves his wife and no longer wants to see her suffer would feel. If she wanted to die, he did the kind and loving thing by ending her suffering. And then he was punished for it.
It is truly shameful in this country that we don't allow people to make their own decisions about their lives. Sick people deserve that dignity, but we refuse to give it to them.
My heart breaks for this man and his impossible decision. No matter what punishment he was given, I am certain nothing could top what he feels himself.
Do you think people ought to be able to choose the way they die?
Image via Maricopa County Sheriff's Office