The husband and son of a terminally ill woman who committed suicide in a motel room were charged with voluntary manslaughter Friday.
Bernard A. Howard, 76, of Belleville, Ill., and Bernard J. Howard, 49, of Plano, Texas, face five to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Velma M. Howard, 76, suffocated at a motel in Joplin, Mo., on Dec. 9 after drinking orange juice laced with sleeping medication and alcohol and then placing a plastic bag over her head.
The men are accused of providing the medication, alcohol and plastic bag and arranging things in the motel room so Mrs. Howard could reach them. Only the father was in the room when she died but the son was in the room at some point, authorities said.
A copy of the suicide manual “Final Exit” was found in the room.
“While I’m not unsympathetic to what happened, I am also not in the business of ignoring violations of the law,” Newton County Prosecutor Greg Bridges said.
The Howards could not be reached for comment.
Dee Wampler, attorney for the husband, said that Mrs. Howard “was in great pain and had thought long and hard about suicide. She made a conscious, determined decision to end her life.”
Wampler and the attorney for the son said their clients would plead innocent.
The men told police Mrs. Howard, a former kindergarten teacher, had considered suicide since she was diagnosed in February 1995 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the degenerative disease of nerve cells also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
A second son, whose identity was not released, was at the motel at some point but was not charged. Bridges said the investigation was continuing.
The Hemlock Society USA, a national right-to-die organization, said six instances of assisted suicide were reported to the group in 1994 and 15 cases in 1993. Only a few resulted in criminal charges, it said.
Greg Maurer, president of the Joplin chapter of Missouri Right to Life, said”All life has been sanctified,” he said. “We don’t have the authority to take someone else’s life.”