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Suspect In Seal Beach Nursing Home Killing Charged With Murder

Publication Date: 
November 24, 2010
Los Angeles Times
Tony Barboza and Alan Zarembo

When 88-year-old Roy Charles Laird was arrested Sunday on suspicion of killing his 86-year-old wife, Clara, at her nursing home in Seal Beach, the assumption was that he was trying to end her misery.

The couple's daughter called the single gunshot wound to the head a "mercy killing."

But on Tuesday, prosecutors had another word for it: murder.

The Orange County district attorney's officeTuesday charged Laird with one felony count of murder and a sentencing enhancement for the fatal use of a firearm. The offense carries a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison — the rest of his life if he's convicted.


The case is a prime example of how society's values can clash with legal imperatives. "The problem is that what we think of as mercy killing is one of the clearest possible instances of premeditated murder," said Robert Weisberg, a professor of criminal law at Stanford University.


Weisberg said that in such cases prosecutors often initially file murder charges, only to later scale them back to lesser offenses and negotiate pleas in exchange for light punishments.

"They recognize the absurdity of bringing this to the conclusion of a full murder sentence," he said. "But they can't simply exonerate the guy."


"There's a bit of kabuki theater with these cases," Weisberg said. "But most people seem to be satisfied that those contrivances are the right thing to do."