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Accused Man Attends Wife’s Funeral

October 30, 1998

HEBRON, Neb. (AP) _ Over prosecution objections, a judge today allowed a 76-year-old man accused of shooting his cancer-stricken wife to attend her funeral.

Vernal ``Bob″ Ohlrich wept throughout a 30-minute hearing on his request _ less than two hours before the funeral began. He said little except to answer ``yes″ or ``no″ to his lawyer’s questions.

He has been jailed without bail ever since he laid a pistol on the nurse’s station at the Thayer County Hospital on Tuesday and told them to check on his wife, Phyllis. The 74-year-old woman, married to Ohlrich for 57 years, had been shot in the hospital bed where she had languished for weeks, suffering from terminal colon cancer.

Ohlrich was charged with first-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.

Despite the prosecutor’s objections, Judge J. Patrick McArdle granted Ohlrich permission to attend his wife’s funeral at St. Peter Lutheran Church in nearby Deschler. The judge ordered sheriff’s deputies to accompany Ohlrich and return him to jail immediately after the church service.

Thayer County Attorney Dan Werner argued that it would be inappropriate to let Ohlrich out of jail for the service and that he was at risk of suicide. But Ohlrich’s pastor, the Rev. Duane Fahr, and his son, Michael, said they thought he could attend the funeral without risk to himself or others.

At the funeral, Fahr told mourners that mercy killing is wrong but asked: ``So now what? Where does the word of God go from here? Do we blame? Do we accuse?″ He reminded mourners that the Bible tells believers not to cast blame because everyone sins.

Mrs. Ohlrich, who had sang in the choir at the church, had fought cancer for about a year but friends said it recently worsened. She had been in extreme pain ever since she had abdominal surgery in May, said Ohlrich’s attorney, Joe Murray. A neighbor, Clara Muehling, said Mrs. Ohlrich had told her two weeks ago she was ready to die.

The murder count against Ohlrich can mean a death sentence, but Werner said he would not seek the death penalty in this case.

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