Man, 86, gets probation in Arizona mercy killing

PHOENIX (AP) - An 86-year-old man who carried out a mercy killing by shooting his ailing wife in the head was sentenced to probation on Friday after an emotional hearing where family members tearfully spoke on his behalf.

George Sanders could have faced more than 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The judge opted for probation. The World War II veteran told the authorities his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1969, and the couple moved from Washington state to the retirement community of Sun City outside Phoenix in the 1970s for the warm, dry climate.

Mrs Virginia Sanders, 81, had been diagnosed with gangrene on her foot just a few days before the shooting. In a videotaped confession, Sanders said his wife begged him to kill her. Wrapped in a blanket as he sat being questioned by a detective, Sanders appeared frail and tired in the hours after he shot his wife in the head.

"She never wanted to outlive me and be left at the mercy of someone else," he said. "We loved each other so much. It was a wonderful life in spite of all the hard things we had at the end."

Sanders was initially charged with first-degree murder for the Nov 9 shooting but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter in what attorneys on both sides have called a "mercy killing".

"We did a lot of things together, always loved each other," he told the detective, adding that her health began to deteriorate over the last few years. "I took care of her through that day and night."

Eventually, as his own health deteriorated, he said the couple hired a caregiver. He said his wife had been diagnosed with gangrene on her foot just a few days before the shooting and was set to be admitted to a hospital, then a nursing home.

"It was just the last straw," Sanders said. "She didn't want to go to that hospital... start cutting her toes off." He said he talked it over with his wife, and she begged him to kill her.

"I said, 'I can't do it honey,'" he told police. "She says, 'Yes you can.'"

Sanders said he got his revolver and wrapped a towel around it, so the bullet would not go into the kitchen.

"She says, 'Is this going to hurt,'" and I said, 'You won't feel a thing,'" he said.

"She was saying, 'Do it. Do it. Do it.' And I just let it go," Sanders added.