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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VALLEY LIFE

Mercy Has Its Day in Court

May 05, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

Some love stories end badly, and others end not at all.

Earl Lindquist's is one of the latter.

He was married to Janet for 43 years.

Like so many couples, they could have stopped loving each other at any point along the way.

But they stuck together through four kids and through her agonizing illness. Even as she begged him to kill her, he never stopped loving her.

At 67, Earl Lindquist wouldn't fit any police profile of violent individuals. Slender and soft-spoken, he looks like a pharmacist or some other town burgher in a Norman Rockwell painting--earnest, serious, hardly dangerous.

Janet's pain was blinding, ceaseless, inescapable, barbed-wire-in-the-skull pain. She couldn't keep morphine down. Other drugs she was taking for her crippling neuralgia produced unspeakable side effects. Her lovely face became moon-shaped. Her belly grew swollen. Her legs turned purple. A broken shoulder suffered in a fall never healed. And, always, there was the miserable ringing in her ears, the tinnitus that her family claims was aggravated by a botched surgery.

"Please," she implored. "If anything happens to you afterward, it won't be much. Maybe they'll stick you in an old-man's jail for three years."

Even as she pleaded, his love didn't flag.

One night in January in their Thousand Oaks home, he shot her in the head. Then he called the police and told them exactly what he'd done.

The amazing thing is: Nobody in the criminal justice system ever contended it wasn't an act of love.

In an era when "corrections" has exploded into a mega-industry and justice is defined as making someone pay, nobody demanded Earl Lindquist's head. Prosecutors charged him not with murder, but with the lesser crime of manslaughter. And nobody objected when he asked to carry out Janet's final wish, his final act of love for her.

Ten years ago, Janet fell in love with Ireland. A sometime writer, she had been thinking about making a documentary on the potato famine. But what she came away from her trip with was much greater. She knew she had found the most beautiful place on earth--a place where, ultimately, she wanted her ashes to be scattered.

Ordinarily, the courts frown upon overseas trips by admitted felons awaiting sentencing.

But this deeply religious, 67-year-old retired civil engineer struck the authorities differently. He had never been in trouble--or hardly ever; in a meeting with Deputy Public Defender Howard Asher, he brought up a 30-year-old traffic ticket.

"Do you think it will hurt my chances?" he asked.

Lindquist was allowed his trip to Ireland, where he plodded 45 miles in four days, more or less following the route that Janet had taken a decade before.

In a church in Tralee, he lit a candle for her and said a prayer, and softly sang: "Jesus loves me, this I know . . ." He did the same in Dingle, and on the shores of Lake Killarney, he emptied the urn that held her ashes.

As he did, a swan glided by.

Outside Courtroom 27 on Thursday morning, he extracted a photo of the passing swan from a tattered manila envelope. He handled it gingerly, a relic of his life's love.

"It was a sign, a symbol from the Lord, of Janet's spirit," he said.

Two of Lindquist's grown children were with him at Thursday's sentencing hearing.

Neither spoke up in court. But outside, his daughter, Deborah Lindquist-Talbott, an accountant, talked about another wish her mother made near the end.

"She wanted me to get on 'Oprah' and tell people all about this," she said. "Why do we think nothing of putting suffering animals to sleep, and at the same time, we think it's acceptable to make humans who are in unrelenting torture suffer?"

Lindquist received two years probation. Judge Herbert Curtis called him a remarkable man, and wished him well. Before the sentence was handed down, Lindquist praised Asher, the judge and prosecutor Patricia Murphy for their compassion.

A judge wishing the best to a convicted killer?

A defendant praising the district attorney's compassion?

Cynics might say that Lindquist--no matter how nice a man--conned the criminal justice system into excusing murder, that his light punishment will encourage more killings.

I don't believe that for a minute. Murder is murder, and mercy killings are mercy killings; there's a difference, and the judicial system saw that on Thursday.

Mercy ruled in Courtroom 27.

It's something you might read in a love story.

*

Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

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