A 63-year-old stroke victim whose wife died of a gunshot wound while the couple were trying to carry out a suicide pact was sentenced Monday to three years of probation for aiding and abetting a suicide.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas sentenced Jay McFadden to one year of formal probation, during which a probation officer will make regular visits to the ailing man’s Garden Grove home, and two years of informal probation.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Kathy Ciccarelli, the McFaddens’ daughter, after the short sentencing hearing in Westminster. “It’s a heavy burden off the family, and we’re glad it’s over.”
Gladys and Jay McFadden of Garden Grove had been married 38 years. Last Jan. 15, they started recording a suicide pact, dictating their goodbys into a portable cassette recorder. Gladys, 61, had suffered from progressive multiple sclerosis since 1976. Jay had been partly paralyzed and barely able to speak since a stroke last year.
They continued to record for two more days. On the night of Jan. 18 they took large doses of sleeping pills. But they didn’t die.
So, when they awoke the next morning, according to Deputy Public Defender Carol E. Lavacot, McFadden held a handgun to his wife’s chest, and she pulled the trigger. She died immediately.
In a panic, McFadden called 911 and was arrested. With little evidence to prove that Gladys McFadden had assisted in her own death, the district attorney’s office had no choice but to file murder charges, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson.
After a three-day preliminary hearing in Orange County Municipal Court earlier this month, McFadden pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aiding and abetting a suicide.
Robinson said evidence presented during the hearing and the testimony of a neuropsychologist who examined McFadden after the incident led his office to accept the plea of guilty on the lesser charge.
Experts testified that gunpowder residue was found on Gladys McFadden’s hand, Lavacot said, indicating that she took an active part in her own death. And the neuropsychologist testified that McFadden was incapable of killing his wife without her help.
“The defendant has understanding of what has happened and was able to comprehend and understand what happened that night,” Douglas E. Harrington said after the preliminary hearing. “But because of his physical and medical condition, he was unable to carry out the task without another human being being present and directing him.”
The preliminary hearing was a tearful ordeal for McFadden, but Monday he looked rested and relieved.
“He’s not jumping for joy, but he’s glad it’s over,” Thomas McFadden, 29, said of his father.
“There’s no way he could have been incarcerated,” Ciccarelli said. “He’s not physically capable of doing that.”
Jay McFadden’s future will be difficult but not impossible, his daughter said. It will be filled with occupational and physical therapy, and the effort to regain his speech and the use of his paralyzed body.
“Through crying, that’s about the only way he can communicate now,” she said. “It’s going to be a struggle, a lot of rehabilitation to get him back to leading a full life.”