Just Another Guy with Opinions

Mercy Killing and Attempted Suicide

Posted by shadmia on September 23, 2009

Phyllis Fish

This is the sad story of James and Phyllis Fish. It is a tragic love story about an elderly couple dealing with end-of-life issues and the dilemma of facing a terminal illness. That is not to excuse the actions of James Fish in killing his wife of over 60 years, nor does it absolve him in the botched suicide attempt afterward. It is merely an account of the lives of two individuals who lived, and hoped to die, together. She was 88 years old. He is 90 and recovering in hospital.

“He wanted to end his wife’s suffering because of the terminal illness,” said Jim Amormino of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department….. “Then he decided that he did not want to live without her and then he turned the gun on himself.”

See video clip here

Fish is now facing a charge of voluntary manslaughter. At 90 years old, Fish could spend the final years of his life behind bars. If convicted, he could face 21 years in prison.

“It’s a very tragic, sad case all around, but again, based on circumstances and based on suspect’s age, it was decided to book him for voluntary manslaughter as opposed to murder,” said Amormino.

Both James and Phyllis were from Indiana. James graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in 1943. They both served in World War II. Phyllis was a nurse.

When they met and married is uncertain, but by 1952 James had a radiology practice in California. They lived in Santa Barbara County and Salinas until James let his medical license expire in 1979. As a couple they were inseparable.

After retiring the couple took up residence in the Leisure World Retirement Community in Laguna Woods. Phyllis quickly gained a reputation as a tireless community organizer and social butterfly. One neighbor said she was “a 5-foot-tall little fireball.” She served on several elected boards, was on the landscaping committee in her neighborhood and loved to golf and garden. She also had a wonderful sense of humor.

James was more introverted he would hang the American flag outside every morning and take it down each evening promptly at 5 p.m. He rarely said much to his neighbors but was devoted to his wife and had a wide range of hobbies. He liked puttering in his woodworking shop.

He cooked fabulous dinners of curried lamb and French seafood stew, and fixed a Sunday brunch of omelets and champagne for his wife each week. They took barge trips down the Seine River in France and cruises through the Panama Canal well into their 80s.

“They had a very, very loving relationship and he loved her to death,” said Rita Schoonmaker, 76, a close friend and former neighbor. “They told stories about their life together.”

However as time went by their age began to catch up with them and affect their lifestyle. Phyllis suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair. She also began to show signs of dementia.

Meanwhile, James was slowly going blind from macular degeneration. At times, his vision was so bad he didn’t even know who was saying hello to him, said his 86-year-old next-door neighbor Paul Jones.

The couple hired a caregiver who would wheel Phyllis outside almost every day for fresh air and sometimes would drive her around the community in a golf cart.

A devastating blow hit the couple when Phyllis was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, and James was told she would die by the end of the year.

James began to withdraw from his friends, he seemed depressed about his wife’s condition and his own failing eyesight. He did not however show any indication of what he was planning to do.

Authorities allege Fish gave his wife morphine, then tried to shoot her, but the gun didn’t fire. A caregiver in the home then took the gun from him and called 911.

As deputies responded to the retirement community, Fish allegedly used another handgun to shoot his wife in the head, killing her.

“Then he decided that he did not want to live without her and then he turned the gun on himself,” said Amormino.

James did shoot himself but did not commit suicide. He is hospitalized in critical condition in Mission Viejo Hospital. There is a bullet lodged in his head.

“I’m very, very sad. I’m particularly sad for Jim. I know Phyllis was going to be leaving us soon anyway, but I’m sorry that Jim didn’t leave us too,” Schoonmaker said. “I think he probably is too.”

Prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh agreed that this was indeed a tragic case but said:

“This is a man who lived to be 90 years old without violating the law, without committing a crime,” he said. “It’s a horribly sad case, but he has to be, to some degree, held accountable for what he did.”

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