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Man who attempted to kill dementia-stricken wife avoids jail

Jimmybeckie James Wheeler, the 85-year-old Carpinteria man who attempted to kill his dementia-stricken wife and himself in September, won't be going back to jail after all.

In a recent sentencing hearing, Ventura County Superior Court Judge George Eskin ruled that the seven days Wheeler spent in a Santa Barbara jail after his Sept. 17 arrest was enough. He'll also serve three years of probation and 100 hours of community service, Eskin decided at the sentencing Thursday.

Wheeler's story galvanized people in Carpinteria and beyond. Many were incensed that the retired engineer could spend the rest of his life behind bars for what they saw as not a crime but an act of love. Wheeler told investigators that he had lost hope because his wife, in her fifth year of battling Alzheimer's, no longer recognized him. His plan to die with her by pumping car exhaust into their weathered beach cottage was interrupted by a neighbor who saw the exhaust hose and called police.

Wheeler's children are relieved that their frail but still active father won't spend the rest of his days in jail. He's set to meet with a probation officer within two weeks and begin community service at a local Alzheimer's support group, said his daughter Terry Scrivner.

"He realizes now there were probably other ways to deal with the situation,'' she said.

Sadly, his beloved wife, Betty, died Nov. 12. Wheeler eulogized his wife of 64 years in a memorial service in Carpinteria and wrote her obituary for the local paper,  which took up nearly a quarter of a page.

-- Catherine Saillant

Photo: James and Betty Wheeler in 2008. Credit: Wheeler family

Comments () | Archives (5)

I live literally around the corner from their house, and would often see them walking hand in hand around our neighborhood. 64 years of marriage, and to still have that love and devotion to each other-it's what the world needs more of.
God rest, Betty., and to James I say good man, good man.

It's nice to know that our legal system hasn't lost its compassion. I think Judge Eskin got this one right. Good on him.

It's a shame that we live in such a culture of death that someone actually thinks this sort of thing is ok. It's really too bad no one told him of other options to help with his wife. Whether someone else is a "burden" or not, killing is never right.

Bree - It is sad we live in a culture that cannot embrace death. Everyone is so fearful of dying. He looked into his wife's empty eyes for the last time. She was no longer mentally conscience. He made the hardest decision one person could make, and I am sure his intentions were pure. If the legal system would embrace physician assisted suicides it would make it much easier for people such as them.

Without death, there would be no life.

As the grandson of a wonderful woman who was eaten away by dementia for thirteen long years and who had ceased being 'herself" five years into her affliction, my heart goes out to this poor man and the suffering of his wife. Dementia is a painful experience for the individual and for those who love that person. The thought of one's beloved life partner being slowly, painfully, taken away is one too horrible for me to indulge.
Sadly, our laws don't well deal with this issue. But Judge George Eskin's example of extending the mercy that ought always be a part of our judicial system gives me hope.
May Mrs, Wheeler rest in peace. May Mr. Wheeler find his own peace and happiness. And may Judge Eskin be praised for his thoughtful and compassionate judgment.


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