No jail for N.S. “mercy-killers”
In the region’s first mercy killing case, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Felix Cacchione ruled that Cheryl May Myers, 30, and her common-law husband Michael William Power, 35, “acted out of compassion, mercy and love.”
They used a pillow to suffocate the woman’s father, 69-year-old Layton Elmer Myers, and received suspended sentences, three years’ probation and 150 hours of community service.
Their major defence was that they were acting in accordance with the expressed wishes of Mr. Myers who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer begged them not to let him suffer as his wife had. She had died of cancer a short time earlier.
Power told the court Myers was a proud man, too weak to hold a spoon, humiliated by cancer-induced incontinence, and overwhelmed by pain. “He was getting desperate. There was no quality of life left,” Power said.
By May 15, 1993, Mr. Myers was unconscious and so close to death that doctors had already told the couple to contact the funeral home.
That, Power told the Court, was when the pair decided to put him out of his agony. Ms. Myers lay beside her dying father and held him while Powers held a pillow over his face.
“He moved while he was being smothered, but struggle would be too strong a description for it,” he told the Court.
Originally charged with second-degree murder, they were to stand trial before a judge and jury on May 8, 1995. Instead, in Supreme Court on December 23, they pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The Prosecution pointed out that Mr. Myers had risen above the indignities he had dreaded, and that suffocation was certainly not a dignified death.
The Defence begged for leniency because jail sentences could cause the couple to lose the family home and their four children.
Justice Cacchione said while he did not condone the killing of Mr. Myers, the crime did not warrant a lengthy jail term, and “a short one would only be a mockery of the principle of general deterrence.”
Although he said that the couple “acted out of love and mercy,” he also said that living with having taken her father’s life would be a greater punishment than a jail sentence for Ms. Myers.
Rumour says there is more to this story than meets the eye. Among other things, people wonder why no testimony was given by other members of the Myers family, and why Ms. Myers’ brothers were so very upset by the verdict.