Curt Doty will spend between 30 days and three years in prison for killing his comatose brother Daryl, for whom life itself had become a prison.
The 26-year-old Sandpoint man pleaded guilty to manslaughter after firing two bullets into his brother’s head while he lay in a hospital bed at Kootenai Medical Center.
The shooting has been called a “mercy killing” - one of two in the region that have raised questions about the morality of taking someone’s life to end their misery.
“I think Daryl’s life was a living hell,” said Georgia Doty, mother to both men. “It was like he was locked in his body.”
At Curt Doty’s sentencing hearing Friday, Judge Gary Haman handed down the shortest minimum prison sentence he’s ever given.
Although Haman sentenced Doty to a maximum of three years in prison, Curt Doty will be eligible for parole after only 30 days behind bars.
The case has taken an emotional toll on everyone involved: the accused, his family, the lawyers and the judge.
“It involves so many controversial issues that reach very deeply into the heart of our social fabric,” Haman said. “It’s one of those gut wrenchers.”
In Spokane, a similar case has caused the same agony for family members and the legal system. Deborah Rockstrom admitted smothering her daughter in February. Erin Rockstrom was unable to walk, talk or hold up her head after a boy accidentally shot her. Prosecutors have not yet filed charges in the case.
In 1992 Daryl Doty, a father of four from Sandpoint, suffered brain and spinal injuries in a logging accident.
On Friday, his family painted a grim picture of his existence afterward. They also described a softspoken Curt Doty ready to sacrifice his life for his brother.
The accident had left 31-year-old Daryl bedridden. He suffered internal infections, had his breath pumped to him through a tube and could not control his bowels, said Steve Verby, a family attorney. The dedicated family man could no longer swallow, his head wobbled as if he were an infant.
And there was pain.
“I don’t think Daryl was ever out of pain,” his mother said, adding that at times it appeared to hurt the young man just to touch him. “Daryl had no life, it was just a mass of pain and a mass of loneliness.”
Georgia Doty is convinced her son knew the terrible condition he was in.
“Curt had a hard time seeing Daryl in this condition, it seemed to overwhelm him,” the mother told the judge, as her son sat quietly with shoulders bowed nearby. “It was his older brother that he looked up to now laying there helpless.”
On the day of Daryl’s death, his mother and younger brother went to his bedside in the intensive care unit. Georgia Doty could tell her boy was in great pain. She wiped his face with a wash rag and told him to sleep.
She and Curt Doty went to lunch together that day. They talked about how Daryl would be better off if he died, Georgia admits.
She says she had no idea Curt Doty had his father’s gun.
“Curt knew he was sacrificing himself for Daryl,” said Dennis Sheppard, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Curt. “He knew he’d probably go to prison.”
Doty was first charged with second-degree murder but it was reduced to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea. He faced up to 15 years in prison.
“I don’t agree with how Daryl died but I can understand and I think he would agree,” Daryl’s widow, Beth Doty, told Judge Haman.
She and Georgia Doty asked the judge not to send Curt to prison.
Acting as the prosecutor in this case was a lonely job, said Lansing Haynes, chief deputy prosecutor.
Despite much public support for Curt Doty, Haynes argued that the shooting was both legally and morally wrong. Who lives and who dies must not be left up to individuals to decide, he said.
“There is no such thing in Idaho law as a mercy killing,” Haynes said, asking that Curt be sentenced to between one and five years in prison. “It’s a homicide and we must not justify homicide in our society.”
Judge Haman said the sentencing was among his most difficult.
“I try not to have emotion enter into it but I realize it’s probably there,” he said. “I don’t think any human being can turn themselves into a machine.”
Haman said he read numerous letters from people asking him not to put Curt Doty behind bars.
“Yet, in my heart, I knew I couldn’t follow that,” he said. “I felt if I did, it would really send the wrong message as to what human life is worth.”
Doty’s attorney said family members were disappointed Doty will have to go to prison. But Glen Walker praised the judge and said justice was served as best it could be.
Doty will be eligible for parole after 30 days but it’s likely he will spend at least 10 to 12 months in prison waiting for his parole hearing, said Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas.
Still, Walker said the sentencing was a relief for Doty.
“It’s been agonizing for Curt,” Walker said. “Now he has a light at the end of the tunnel.”