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D.A. won't prosecute 88-year-old man in wife's suicide

August 22, 2012 |  5:50 pm


Alan Purdy
Criminal charges will not be filed against an 88-year-old San Marcos man who sat beside his ailing wife as she commited 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,'" said spokesman Steve Walker, "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, commited suicide after years of unrelenting pain from a variety of ailments. The couple was married for 15 years.

Purdy, a semi-retired engineer, did not try to stop her as she swallowed apple sauce mixed with sleeping pills and then 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.”

Although they did not know of Margaret's decision to commit suicide beforehand, 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 D.A.'s decision. "I feel like justice has finally happened."

Her father, 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, a crumbling spine, and from three fractured vertebrae that never healed properly. She left a suicide note on her desk.

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department investigators arrested Purdy in the hours after his wife’s death. Their report was forwarded within days to the district attorney’s office.

Legal experts note that although the law may be clear, persuading a jury to convict a spouse for helping a loved one end their pain could be a difficult task for prosecutors.

“It’s an extremely difficult situation for everyone,” said Justin Brooks, a criminal defense attorney and director of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

At an arraignment in March, the district attorney’s office did not file charges, instead telling the judge that the case was “under review.”

"She was a beautiful woman," Purdy told The Times, "but she died a hard death."


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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Alan Purdy at home in San Marcos. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times