SANTA ROSA (AP) — A judge dismissed a felony voluntary manslaughter charge against a Northern California man who says he helped his ailing wife kill herself, reducing the possible punishment for his role in her death.
David Clement, 65, still faces a charge of aiding suicide, a felony that carries up to three years in prison, the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported Saturday. The manslaughter charge could have meant an 11-year sentence.
Clement was arrested Jan. 10 at a Bodega Bay hotel after he called 911 to report helping 52-year-old Debra Bales kill herself.
“She just wanted out of her pain. I couldn’t see abandoning her,” he said in a recording of the call played in court.
He told investigators that Bales was determined to die after being told she could no longer take prescription pain medications, including the powerful opioid fentanyl, which she had relied on for more than two decades.
Bales had experienced chronic pain since about 2000 when she underwent surgery for a hysterectomy, eventually becoming reliant on painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, according to the newspaper.
Bales’ quality of life had deteriorated and she was mostly bedridden with daily bouts of debilitating nausea and painful constipation, Clement testified in May during a preliminary hearing.
His lawyer, public defender Scott Fishman, argued that prosecutors didn’t provide evidence that Clement was an active participant in Bales’ death.
Clement tried to enter a no-contest plea last week, but Judge Robert LaForge declined to accept it after prosecutors said they needed more time in the case.
“Mr. Clement has been saying all along he wanted to take responsibility,” Fishman said.
Detectives found notes that appeared to have been written by Bales detailing different suicide methods, according to court documents.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said prosecutors were evaluating the case and still considering whether there are legal grounds to appeal the court’s decision to toss the manslaughter charge. They return to court Wednesday.
It’s illegal to assist in another person’s suicide in California, although a state law allows terminally ill adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor.