Ninety-two-year-old Alfred Pohlmeier told authorities he felt “pretty miserable” as he strangled his wife of 62 years with his bare hands on the morning of Sept. 13, 1995, according to a taped interview played for the jury at his murder trial Tuesday.
But after listening to Lidwina Pohlmeier’s incessant coughing, Pohlmeier decided it was best to end her life, he told a Ventura County detective during the interview, conducted the day of the killing.
“I just thought, well, this has got to be it, get her out of her misery,” Pohlmeier said during the recorded interview. “Nobody could help her.”
Pohlmeier’s statements cut straight to the heart of the case. Prosecutors, who say the retired Fillmore postal worker premeditated the slaying of his wife, have charged him with first-degree murder.
But defense attorneys say Pohlmeier was devoted to his sickly wife, who had been in and out of the hospital for years.
In her opening statement last week, Deputy Public Defender Susan Olson told the jury that when her client killed Lidwina Pohlmeier, it was a “misguided act of love” borne out of desperation, not malice.
Pohlmeier has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but his mental state becomes an issue only if he is convicted of murder. If so, the jury must decide during a second phase of the trial whether he was insane.
During a somber day of testimony Tuesday, Pohlmeier’s two sons took the witness stand and told the jury that their father was a patient man, a former Texas farmer who had become his wife’s caregiver as her health deteriorated in recent years.
Joseph Pohlmeier, 57, of Simi Valley said he realized the family needed to get their father professional help in caring for their 86-year-old mother. She had become increasingly frail and coughed a lot, he testified.
“Any time I would talk to him,” Joseph Pohlmeier said of his father, “he would mention that she constantly coughed.”
He told the jury that his father sounded “like he just didn’t know what to do anymore.”
On Sept. 5, 1995, Joseph Pohlmeier said, he went with his parents to visit three doctors about his mother’s cough. But he said they could find nothing wrong with her.
Meanwhile, he said, his father needed surgery for a hernia and was worried about who would care for Lidwina while he was in the hospital.
“It was a pressure point to him,” he said.
The son also told the jury that he never saw his father strike his mother or hurt any human being--a statement echoed by his brother, 49-year-old Larry Pohlmeier of Simi Valley, who testified later in the day.
When asked by Olson what his reaction would be if someone told him his mother would die at the hands of his father, Joseph Pohlmeier said only: “It’s inconceivable that would ever happen.”
But according to the testimony of two Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officials who interviewed Alfred Pohlmeier on the morning of his wife’s death, that is exactly what happened.
Deputy Joseph Preciado told the jury that Pohlmeier admitted during a brief interview at the hospital to killing his wife. Preciado was questioning the man about a 911 call he placed and had not read Pohlmeier his Miranda rights before the admission was offered.
A transcript of their tape-recorded interview, totaling about 10 pages, was shown to the jury Tuesday morning.
A subsequent conversation between Pohlmeier and son Joseph at the hospital was also taped by Preciado. A 14-page transcript of those statements also was shown to the jury.
During the conversation with his son, Pohlmeier said that he had been thinking about choking his wife to death for “a couple of days,” the transcript said.
He acknowledged that he was in “deep trouble,” but told his son that he didn’t expect to live for more than a month or two, suggesting that he planned to kill himself.
“Well, I didn’t care about myself,” Pohlmeier told his son, according to the transcript. “I guess I’ll get my gun.”
After Preciado’s interview, Sgt. John Fitzgerald, the primary investigator on the case, took a formal statement from Pohlmeier in which he again admitted strangling his wife. That tape-recorded interview was played for the jury in its entirety.
During the interview, Pohlmeier told Fitzgerald that his wife’s chronic cough had driven him “just about nuts.”
“I just decided I was going to strangle her and that was it,” he explained on the tape.
Also on the tape, Pohlmeier described to authorities how he choked his wife with his bare hands for about 10 minutes. He said he held her throat until she stopped breathing and then immediately dialed 911.
As the recorded interview played for the hushed courtroom, Pohlmeier sat hunched over in his wheelchair, following along in a typed transcript. Sitting behind him were his children, who wept softly as the tape played their father’s flat recorded admissions.
Prosecutors rested their side of the case after Fitzgerald stepped down from the witness stand.
The first defense witness, Larry Pohlmeier, took the stand late Tuesday and is expected to continue with additional testimony today.
Prosecutors had called Joseph Pohlmeier to question him about statements his father had made to him at the hospital hours after his mother’s death.