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Husband Pleads Guilty to Helping Wife Kill Herself

September 20, 1986|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

A 63-year-old stroke victim who shot his wife in a suicide pact but then failed to turn the gun on himself pleaded guilty Friday to aiding and abetting in her death.

Jay Ward McFadden had been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of his wife eight months ago but was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge. Attorneys in the Orange County case say he will probably be sentenced to probation when he returns to court on Sept. 29.

Gladys and Jay McFadden of Garden Grove had been married 38 years. Last Jan 15, they started recording a suicide pact, dictating their goodbys into a portable cassette player. Gladys, 61, had suffered from progressive multiple sclerosis since 1976. And Jay had been partially paralyzed and barely able to speak since a stroke in 1985.

Hoarded Sleeping Pills

On the Saturday night of Jan. 18, they divided the sleeping pills they had hoarded, swallowed them and lay down to die together--a plan they had been discussing for the past several years. But they awoke the next day.

Next they pulled out Jay's old Ruger handgun and tried again. According to Deputy Public Defender Carol Lavacot, Jay held the gun to Gladys' chest and she pulled the trigger. She died. He dropped the gun, unable to complete the suicide pact.

In a panic, he called 911 and was arrested for murder.

On Friday the courtroom was hushed when Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey Robinson turned to McFadden and asked: "With reference to this charge of aiding and abetting in the suicide of Gladys McFadden, do you plead guilty in this case?"

Unable to Talk

The partially paralyzed man shook with sobs, unable to answer, until his attorney leaned over, gently put her arms around him and coached, "Say yes, Jay."

"Ye-ye-yes," he stammered, his head bowed.

With little evidence to prove that Gladys McFadden had taken part in her own death, the district attorney's office had filed murder charges.

"From a humanistic standpoint, everyone in the D.A.'s office felt a great deal of compassion for Mr. McFadden," Robinson said outside the courtroom. "Under the law we had no option but to file murder charges. But we found that Mr. McFadden does not necessarily act of his own volition."

Lavacot and Kathy Ciccarelli, the McFaddens' daughter, embraced tearfully after the hearing. "I'm so happy," Ciccarelli said as she sobbed on Lavacot's shoulder.

Ciccarelli explained why the guilty plea was agreed to: "Anything to avoid a trial, to put my father through any more agony than he's already gone through in the last three trial dates.

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