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Charges go forward in alleged mercy killing

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Jeanette and Jack Brown / May 15, 2018
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Robert H. Morrison certified a murder charge against 80-year-old John Frederick “Jack” Brown on Tuesday, bumping up the case to Circuit Court after an initial presentation of evidence in the alleged mercy killing by Brown of his ailing wife.

Brown faces felony charges of second degree murder and use of a firearm after shooting his wife, 74-year-old Jeanette Brown, on Jan. 22 at their home on 1171 Hendricks Road. The maximum prison time for these offenses is 43 years. Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin presented the charges against Brown, who was represented by Sandra Saseen-Smith with the Halifax County public defenders’ office.

Brown maintains that his actions constituted a mercy killing, as his wife increasingly suffered from manic depression, “bipolar” behavior, and other health problems. So-called mercy killings are illegal, but the instances of family members killing loved ones to end their suffering is not uncommon nationwide.

Citing the crowd in the small temporary courtroom for family court, Morrison said, “I recognize it’s an emotional situation,” but the hearing went forward without interruption. At the conclusion of the hearing, Morrison ruled there was probable cause to send the case to Circuit Court for a felony trial.

Martin called Halifax Sheriff’s Investigators Jeff Burton and Sam Edmunds as witnesses, having been present at the scene and responsible for the investigation.

On the stand, Burton recalled arriving at the scene after the first responders, securing the .22 pistol murder weapon and seeing the body of Mrs. Brown “in the fetal position on her left side” in the bedroom. Mrs. Brown had two gunshot wounds in the side of her head, covered by a paper towel. Subsequently, he found the handwritten suicide note by Mr. Brown, written for both himself and his spouse in the kitchen.

Edmunds took the stand to confirm the authenticity of a recorded interview that he conducted with Mr. Brown the morning of Jan. 22. He affirmed that Brown’s rights had been read previously, and stated them again before the interview. In the recording, Brown acknowledged them, saying “whatever you want to know, just ask me.”

Brown noted his clean record — no crimes committed, trouble, or time in jail. He cited the tragedy of his wife’s condition: since 1991 had struggled with manic depression that was tied to medication, he said. More recently, her medications’ effectiveness fluctuated, in turn increasing her blood pressure, hampering her ability to sleep, causing epileptic-like shaking spells, and affecting her mood. Brown took his wife in for treatment in the local hospital emergency room a month before her death, but claimed they were forced out prematurely.

Two nights before his wife’s death, Brown said, “I began to think about what I could do for her … what I could do to help her.” Subsequently, the thought of a mercy killing began to take root in his mind, he said in the interview.

Brown stated that he was unaware of his wife ever harming herself and did not discuss a mercy killing with her. “I didn’t discuss nothing … her mind’s always racing,” he said.

“To live with someone like that is very sad,” Brown told the officer.

After a long and sleepless night, Brown stated he shot her twice in the head. The first shot didn’t kill her, he said — he wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t live and “be like scrambled eggs.”

Brown said the first time he fired, the gun malfunctioned, then he pulled the trigger a second time.

The .22 pistol, Brown claimed, was a never-used acquisition from Florida two decades ago. The last time he recalled taking it out was several years ago for cleaning.

“I had no right to do that,” he said in the interview. “She’s a good Christian.

“I’m guilty, I’m heartbroken,” he added.

Brown wordlessly sat in the courtroom, handcuffed and clothed in an orange Blue Ridge Prison uniform, nervously turning his neck during the proceedings. According to a family member, the defendant suffers involuntary movements, the result of having Parkinson’s Disease.

No date has been set for future proceedings in Circuit Court.

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Now the state will try an through the book at this guy. I know it's a slippery slope, but how many people reading this want to end up suffering all the time? I hope that this would be a case of jury nullification. I know if I was on the jury I could not bring in a guilty verdict.

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