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Husband won’t be charged in wife’s suicide

SAN DIEGO — Criminal charges will not be filed against an 88-year-old San Marcos man who sat beside his ailing wife as she committed suicide, the San Diego County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.

After a thorough review, the office decided that it could not meet “the ethical and legal burden” of proving a charge of “assisted suicide” against Alan Purdy, according to a spokesman for Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis.

“We do not discuss the reasons when we don’t file criminal charges,” spokesman Steve Walker said, “other than [to say that] we only file when we believe we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

On March 20, Purdy’s wife, Margaret, 84, committed suicide after years of unrelenting pain from a variety of ailments. The couple were married for 15 years.

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Purdy, a semiretired engineer, did not try to stop his wife as she swallowed apple sauce mixed with sleeping pills and put a plastic bag over her head.

“Yes, I sat beside her as she died,” Purdy told The Times weeks after the death. “I didn’t want her to feel abandoned. I wanted her to know that I loved her.”

Purdy’s children and his wife’s children from a previous marriage were opposed to criminal charges being filed.

“I’m delighted to hear this,” said Purdy’s daughter Catherine Purdy, a Berkeley psychologist, when informed of the district attorney’s decision. “I feel like justice has finally happened.”

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Her father, Catherine Purdy said, “is very lonesome and unhappy. He lost his wife, and then to have to wait for this decision — it’s been very hard on him.”

A rarely enforced California law from the 19th century says that anyone who “deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide” is guilty of a felony. Unlike several other states, California does not have a law that permits physician-assisted suicide.

Once a vibrant woman who enjoyed traveling and painting, Margaret Purdy was bedridden in her final years from severe pancreatitis, an autoimmune disease, from a crumbling spine, and from three fractured vertebrae that never healed properly. She left a suicide note on her desk.

Alan Purdy was arrested even before the medical examiner removed his wife’s body from the couple’s home. But at an arraignment in March, the district attorney said that the case was under review.

“This is a great relief, of course,” Purdy said of the district attorney’s decision ultimately to not file charges. He said he grieves daily for his wife but said that he’s “definitely happy [the district attorney’s office] made this right decision.”

tony.perry@latimes.com


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