True Crime

American Doctor Convicted of Murdering Wife in Botched Assisted Suicide

An American doctor in Italy has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing his wife, in what he claims was a botched assisted suicide.

11.13.13 10:45 AM ET

When 64-year-old American doctor William Holmes gave his 68-year-old wife, Patricia Ann Holmes, a strong dose of the tranquilizer Lexotan in their remote Italian villa outside Turin last November, he hoped it would kill her. Holmes, who specialized in physical therapy, had been watching his wife’s health decline from severe rheumatoid arthritis that was only getting worse. But when the tranquilizer didn’t work and she started to convulse, the doctor panicked and stabbed his wife in the heart with a kitchen knife. He then wrapped her in towels and hid her body for several days before confessing to police. Holmes, who was convicted in a fast-track trial for her murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison this week, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for trying to save his wife, a former model, from further agony.

Holmes testified in court that his wife had not moved from the makeshift hospital bed he had made on the living room sofa for nearly two years because of her extreme pain. She had become immune to even the strongest pharmaceuticals and her pain was so severe she often passed out from the agony. “She wanted to die,” Holmes told the court. “And I wanted to stop her suffering.”

The prosecution in the case had argued that Holmes should be sentenced to 15 years for murder and concealing the body on the basis that no one could corroborate Patricia Ann’s apparent death wish. The couple lived in an isolated villa and despite the fact they’d spent more than 30 years in Italy, they apparently had no intimate friends who knew Patricia’s wishes. Holmes had largely treated his wife’s pain with prescriptions and experimental concoctions, and he had tried using physical therapy to keep her limber and ease the pain. Autopsy reports and radiological records from the local hospital proved her illness, but she had not been treated by a regular doctor for nearly five years when she died. The charge of concealment of a corpse was dropped.

Psychological tests on Holmes, who has been in prison since confessing to the murder, showed mixed results. According to evidence presented in court, Holmes suffered from hallucinations and confusion, suffering at least one “psychiatric episode” during his incarceration. The court-appointed examining psychologist determined that Holmes was fit to stand trial, according to court documents, and that he knew full well what he was doing in killing his wife.

The presiding judge in the case, Enrica Bertolotto, referred to the crime as “uxorcide,” derived from the Latin word for wife-killing for noble means rather than “femicide” which refers to the murder of a woman as a result of escalated domestic violence. She reduced the sentence from 15 years to 10 years because Holmes had no prior record of violence, but ruled that because no one could speak for the victim, she had no choice but to find him guilty, whether or not his crime was a mercy killing.