Can Mercy Killing Mitigate the Punishment for Murder?

by tylercook on September 21, 2012

  • Sharebar

On August 4 of this year, John Wise entered a hospital room where his wife of 45 years, Barbara, lay incapacitated from a brain hemorrhage, and then shot her in the head. She died as a result of that gunshot wound the next day. Mr. Wise may no attempt to flee the scene and freely admitted to shooting his wife upon his arrest and told officers that he and his wife had long ago agreed that neither of them wanted to end their lives in a nursing home. Rather than debate the morality of this alleged mercy killing, this short article will examine possible defenses against murder charges in such cases as that of Mr. Wise.

Although there are minor variations in the statutory definition of “first degree” or “aggravated” murder, every state will recognize this crime only if it can be shown that the accused had demonstrated feelings of malice toward the victim, and if the accused acted with premeditation to commit the physical act of murder. At first glance the published accounts of the incident involving Mr. Wise and his wife would certainly seem to justify the charges brought against him by the State of Ohio. However, there are several potential defenses that are available to Mr. Wise, or to any other person accused of murder under the same circumstances.

* Lack of malice toward the victim

To convict on a charge of murder, it must be shown that there was an exhibition of malice toward the victim on the part of the accused. “Exhibition” can include words, statements, or any other actions made to the victim or to any other person that would establish the existence of hostility or “ill will”between the accused and the victim.
According to all available accounts of the Wise case, Mr. Wise never gave even the slightest indication of malice toward his wife. In fact, statements by both family friends and hospital personnel portray Mr. Wise’s attitude as quite compassionate toward his wife and that he was concerned that they would not keep their private vow to avoid long term care in an extended nursing care facility. Based on the statements of witnesses, it seems most unlikely that the state can prove malice.

* Emotional state of the accused (“premeditation”) immediately prior to the crime

“Premeditation” is the fact that the accused deliberately planned the crime of murder, and that he was aware of the potential consequences of his act. Again, according to the evidence available to the news media, Mr. Wise was under considerable emotional stress at the time he made the decision to kill his wife, and was thus unable to make rational decisions regarding his actions. In all likelihood, his defense counsel will raise this issue at trial.

* Guilt of a lesser charge

In the case at hand, the mere fact that Mr. Wise has been charged with aggravated murder does not mean that he must be tried and convicted on that charge. Ohio law, as do the laws of other states, allows that he could be recharged with a lesser offense based on the facts that are presented to the court at a preliminary hearing, or even convicted on a less serious charge after a trial.

To summarize: in order to sustain a charge of murder, it must be shown that the accused acted out of malice toward the victim, and that the accused must have known that his intentions were unlawful and contrary to social morality. If either factor can be cast into doubt, then it is not possible to prove that the crime has met the statutory definition of aggravated murder. At the discretion of a jury, and in accordance with the applicable state laws, conviction on a less serious charge may still occur.



Katie Fresch is interested in criminal defense, and found a wealth of information on the subject online through criminal defense attorneys.




Latest posts by tylercook (see all)

No related posts.

Previous post:

Next post: