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No Cancer Found in Mercy Killing

February 8, 1999

HEBRON, Neb. (AP) _ An elderly man who fatally shot his 74-year-old wife to end her suffering from what he thought was terminal cancer pleaded no contest today to manslaughter. An autopsy report read in court revealed the woman was cancer free.

Vernal ``Bob″ Ohlrich, 76, who tried to shoot himself after shooting his wife in her hospital bed last October, grew upset and visibly frustrated as the county attorney discussed the autopsy findings. He said doctors told him the cancer had spread from his wife’s colon to lymph nodes.

``I was told by doctors that she should call her children home because she’s not going to make it overnight,″ said Ohlrich, who cried during the hearing.

Ohlrich entered his plea after prosecutors agreed to drop charges of first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony.

He still could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison but that did not seem likely. Thayer County Attorney Daniel Warner said he would seek some prison time but did not know how much. A sentencing date was not immediately set.

The prosecutor said he also agreed to the plea deal because it would be pointless to give the elderly man a lengthy prison sentence and because justice was served.

Prosecutors did not dispute that Phyllis Ohlrich was in a lot of pain, or testimony from Ohlrich and neighbors that she said she wanted to die.

Mrs. Ohlrich had an operation for colon cancer in May 1998 and underwent chemotherapy that was discontinued that summer. Warner said she injured her back and entered the hospital on Sept. 21, 1998.

Ohlrich was accused of walking into the hospital room early Oct. 27 and shooting his wife, the mother of their four children, in the head.

He said he had put the gun to his own temple after shooting his wife, but it jammed.

``I just wanted to go with her,″ Ohlrich said. ``I would have, if the gun wouldn’t have misfired.″

He said he walked to the nurses’ station, placed the pistol on the counter and told the nurse to go see his wife.

Ohlrich admitted to the shooting and asked to be locked up. His attorney, Joe Murray, had said the shooting was an act of love rather than of malice.

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