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Cross-Dressing Doctor Guilty in Wife-Slaying

Verdict: Jury refuses to accept defense claims of insanity. Dermatologist faces life imprisonment, with no chance of parole.


BOSTON — A jury on Tuesday refused to accept defense arguments that Dr. Richard Sharpe was insane when he used a high-powered rifle to kill his wife, ruling instead that the wealthy, cross-dressing dermatologist was guilty of first-degree murder.

As he had done throughout his 2 1/2-week trial, the 47-year-old physician squeezed his eyes shut and jerked his head awkwardly when the verdict was read in a court in Lawrence, a city north of Boston. He will automatically be sentenced Thursday to a verdict of life in prison without a possibility of parole.

The case drew widespread attention because Sharpe appeared to be the embodiment of a small-town kid who grew up to become an enormously successful physician. His assets are estimated at more than $5 million--and one of the turning points in the murder case was a $3-million business he had placed in the name of his late wife, Karen. When she filed for divorce, he stood to lose it all.

The Sharpes were high school sweethearts in Connecticut who eloped to marry against their parents' wishes. While Karen went through nursing school, Richard graduated from college, then entered medical school. He completed a residency at Harvard Medical School, where he later earned a coveted teaching position.

But Sharpe had a dark secret. Since childhood, he testified, he had enjoyed dressing in women's clothes. He also said he took his wife's birth control pills in an attempt to enlarge his breasts. And Sharpe removed unwanted body hair with Lase-Hair, his laser hair removal business. That enterprise earned him millions.

Sharpe never denied that he pulled the trigger on his 44-year-old wife on July 14, 2000. But he insisted he was temporarily insane and thus unable to determine right from wrong.

His lawyer, Joseph Balliro, said in closing arguments that Sharpe was "about as insane as anyone you're ever going to meet."

Prosecutor Robert Weiner countered: "He wants you to think he was temporarily insane and then, after, he's not crazy anymore. How convenient."

Calmly--though with his eyes squeezed shut--Sharpe told the jury about the copious quantities of wine and other alcohol he consumed that fateful night. He described "borrowing" a rifle from a friend of his girlfriend. He even recalled paying by credit card--not cash--when he fled the murder scene and needed to refuel his car before driving to a motel in New Hampshire, where he was apprehended without incident the day after the murder.

Sharpe talked about seeing a psychiatrist and enumerated the anti-depressants and other medication he took, sometimes prescribing the drugs to himself. He admitted he had battered his wife in the past, once stabbing her with a fork in a jealous rage.

Jealousy, Sharpe argued, was what drove him to kill his wife of 27 years, the mother of his three children. He claimed her most recent affair, with a contractor who was working on their luxury home, pushed him to the limit. In court, he testified that he became enraged when he thought she was waving a restraining order at him.

But prosecutors said his sole motive was greed. Sharpe was furious, prosecutors contended, because his wife had finally filed for divorce, and apparently intended to follow through on it.

Along with the luxury house, the assets at stake included the $3-million business Sharpe had placed in his wife's name.

"I submit there are 3 million reasons that Richard Sharpe had for killing Karen," Weiner said. "He was infuriated about the money."

Sharpe testified that he did not remember pulling the trigger.

"I heard the gun go off. I think the noise sort of woke me up a little bit. I heard the noise and I left," he said.

But prosecutors noted that he had parked his car more than 300 feet from the family home, turning off the headlights when he drove so no one would see him approach. He then stealthily walked up the long driveway to the home.

Two of the Sharpes' three children were home when their mother was killed.

By coincidence, the Sharpe case unfolded as several other prominent doctors in the state also faced murder charges.

Andover plastic surgeon James Kartell is in prison, convicted of fatally shooting his wife's lover in her hospital room in 1999.

Another well-known doctor, Kirk Greineder, was convicted earlier this year of bludgeoning his wife to death while walking their dog in a park in Wellesley, a posh Boston suburb.

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