EVERETT — Donald McNeely sat on the couch next to his sleeping wife. For two hours he held a gun in his hand, contemplating what she’d asked of him.
The Bothell man later told homicide detectives that his wife had been sick and suffering.
In the summer of 2010, Linda McNeely had her first seizure. A couple of months later she learned of the aggressive tumor growing in her brain. By fall 2011, Linda McNeely was told she had six months to live. The Bothell mother was having trouble seeing and talking. The tumor robbed her of her balance and independence, court papers said.
Donald McNeely, with his daughter, cared for Linda at home. She later was moved to a nursing home, but her husband brought her back home on Christmas Eve 2011. She was more comfortable there.
A month later, Donald McNeely told a state social worker that his wife had asked him to shoot her, court papers said. He repeated the story to his wife’s friend and even his neighbors, saying his wife was begging him to end her life.
In February 2012, a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy showed up at the family home to check on Linda McNeely. The couple’s adult daughter had told someone that her father was going to shoot her mother, court papers said. Donald McNeely assured the deputy that he had no intention of shooting his wife.
A couple of weeks later, on March 14, Donald McNeely called 911. He told the dispatcher that his wife, 52, had been dying of cancer. The suffering and pain were more than she could bear anymore. He said he was sorry.
Deputies found Linda McNeely on the couch, under a blanket. She was dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Prosecutors last week charged Donald McNeely with second-degree murder. On Thursday, McNeely, 55, pleaded guilty to the charge, admitting that what he’d done to his wife was murder under the law.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne then sentenced McNeely to two years in prison.
Everett defense attorney Mark Mestel had asked the judge to show McNeely mercy. So did McNeely’s two children.
They wrote letters to the judge, detailing the devastation the cancer had caused their mother. She was in constant pain, often moaning in her sleep. Her lucid moments grew less frequent. It was during these moments that she expressed her desire for an end.
“My mother was trapped inside a body that had failed her in every way it could have. Her illness took away everything good in her life and replaced it with pain and humiliation in only a few short months,” the McNeelys’ son wrote.
The family had explored legal assisted suicide, but Linda McNeely’s cognitive deterioration prevented her from being a candidate, Mestel wrote.
Voters in 2008 approved the state’s “Death with Dignity” law, allowing terminally ill patients to ask doctors to prescribe them medication to end their lives. Under the law, a patient must be deemed competent to qualify. Additionally, the patient must make oral and written requests for the lethal medication.
McNeely told the judge on Thursday that he initially refused his wife’s request.
His client knew before he pulled the trigger that what he was about to do was illegal, but “he no longer could ignore Linda’s pleas to end her suffering. Knowing that her illness was terminal, with no hope of remission, he did her bidding,” Mestel wrote in court papers.
Her father is an honorable man, who gave her mother the peace she wanted, the couple’s daughter told Wynne.
“We should not be here today,” the woman said. Her father doesn’t deserve to be punished for his compassion, she added.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Katie Wetmore didn’t fight the defense’s request for leniency. In exchange for pleading guilty to murder, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence below the standard range. McNeely faced up to 18 years in prison. The case was charged without the deadly weapon enhancement that would have mandated even more prison time.
Wetmore told the court it was important that McNeely be charged with murder to accurately reflect his actions. She also agreed that the circumstances warranted a sentence below the standard range.
Wynne clearly wrestled with finding an appropriate legal punishment. He told McNeely that many people are faced with seeing their loved ones suffer from cruel diseases. The longtime judge said he can understand wanting to alleviate an ailing person’s pain.
“The state and the court can’t condone you taking your wife’s life the way you did,” Wynne said.
The criminal justice system should hold the defendant accountable, the judge said.
Wynne agreed to the recommended sentence, finding a legal basis to deviate from the standard range. He found that the defendant doesn’t pose a significant risk to the community and that his intentions were thought to be humanitarian, not criminal. Additionally, the victim to a significant degree was a willing participant in the incident, the judge concluded.
Before he was led off to the jail, McNeely tearfully hugged his children, reassuring them that he’ll be OK.
He asked them to take care of each other.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.