A Spokane man was sentenced today to six months in jail for his role in the suicide of a longtime friend who jumped off the Sunset Bridge.
Melvin Alephus Gillespie, 41, wept as he apologized to the family of William P. Pickard, who died June 30 after jumping from the bridge above High Bridge Park. Gillespie helped bind Pickard with a cord to make the death look like a homicide.
“I feel like I failed Billy, I failed God, and I failed his family,” Gillespie said today. “I’m just ashamed more than anything.”
Gillespie said he hopes to get help for his alcohol and drug addiction, which he said clouded his judgment and stopped him from seeking help for Pickard.
“I just don’t know, your honor. My heart’s in a knot,” Gillespie told Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno. “As far as with Billy’s family, I’m going to wear this on my heart probably the rest of my life.”
Pickard’s father had told him he hoped for no less.
“Because of your actions, you have caused my family and myself so much heartache,” Don Pickard said. “I pray to the Lord you carry this guilt with you for the rest of your life.”
Pickard’s body was found bond with a cord in what police first suspected was a homicide. After months of investigation, Gillespie admitted to police that he’d helped Pickard kill himself at Pickard’s request. He was arrested in January.
Gillespie pleaded guilty to promoting a suicide and three counts of obstructing a police investigation. He also pleaded guilty to eluding police and trafficking in stolen property in unrelated cases.
Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz called for Gillespie, who had no previous felony convictions but 20 misdemeanor convictions, to serve a year in jail, but Moreno sentenced him to six months. He’ll be on probation for two years and is to seek help for alcohol and drug addiction.
Moreno said she’d never before sentenced someone for the rare charge of promoting a suicide.
“No matter what I sentence Mr. Gillespie to, it’s not going to bring Billy back,” Moreno said.
Gillespie graduated from North Central High School, where he wrestled with Pickard and knew his brothers. He and Pickard, a recovering drug addict with a methadone prescription, spent nearly every day together the year before Pickard’s death, friends said. Pickard was 38 when he died.
Gillespie’s mother, Barbara Haight, apologized to Pickard’s family but said her son didn’t deserve the blame for what happened.
His public defender, Thomas Krzyminski, agreed.
“We’re here because of Mr. Pickard’s actions,” Krzyminski said.
Krzyminski said he wanted to take the case to trial, but Gillespie didn’t want to put Pickard’s family through that.
Krzyminski emphasized that it takes training to know how to deal with suicidal people, and to expect Gillespie to make the right decision when influenced by drugs and by Pickard, his longtime friend, is a mistake.
Pickard told Gillespie he had a terminal illness and a life insurance policy that wouldn’t pay if his death was a suicide.
“Mr. Gillespie was generally surprised when he found out there was no insurance and there was generally no illness,” Krzyminski said.
Pickard wrote a suicide note, which he told Gillespie to release only if detectives began to suspect Gillespie of homicide. Gillespie lied to police on three occasions after Pickard’s body was discovered. Handwriting experts confirmed the suicide note was written by Pickard, police said.
Detective Mark Burbridge told Moreno that Gillespie’s lies cost investigators at least $30,000 and 500 to 600 hours in investigative work.
Steinmetz called the case “a very sorrowful and troubling scenario for all involved.”
Because of Gillespie, Pickard’s family believed for months “and some still believe” that Pickard’s was murdered.
Pickard’s longtime friend Sharon Whitt told Moreno she can’t believe Pickard would kill himself.
“Bill had problems, but Bill lit up a room, and Bill was loved,” Whitt said. “We just don’t understand.”
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