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Murder Charge Dismissed in Suicide Case

August 10, 1994

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ For the second time in two months, murder charges were thrown out Wednesday against a man whose ex-wife committed suicide three years after he shot her and left her paralyzed and in pain.

District Judge Ronald Reagan ruled that too much time had passed between the shooting and the suicide to hold Charles Peterson responsible for Suzanne Rubin’s death.

Peterson, a 35-year-old former Air Force lieutenant, was convicted of attempted murder for shooting Ms. Rubin as she slept in 1990. He is serving 23 to 55 years in prison.

Prosecutors brought murder charges against Peterson after Ms. Rubin, 36, killed herself in her Denver apartment in 1993. She had left a note saying she could no longer live with the pain from her husband’s attack.

Deputy County Attorney Charles Stolz said he had not decided whether to appeal Wednesday’s ruling or to seek a grand jury indictment.

Peterson’s lawyer, James Martin Davis, said the murder charge set a dangerous precedent. ″It’s a slippery slope when we start tampering with what does or does not constitute first-degree murder,″ Davis said.

For instance, he asked, what if a divorced spouse committed suicide and left a note saying the emotional pain from the breakup was too much to bear?

″Is that murder?″ Davis asked.

A Sarpy County Court judge threw out the murder charge on June 23. But Stolz refiled the charge in District Court.

At a hearing Tuesday, Stolz argued that Peterson’s attack set in motion a chain of events that led to the suicide. He cited a 1932 Indiana case in which a man was convicted of murder after a woman he raped killed herself with poison.

Prosecutors have said that Peterson tried to kill his wife of 10 years to collect on her life insurance policy, which was increased by $200,000 about five months before the shooting.

Peterson’s first shot blinded Ms. Rubin in one eye. Not knowing who had shot her, she staggered from bed, asking Peterson for help. Instead, he shot her again, this time paralyzing her from the waist down.

Ms. Rubin later divorced her husband and moved to Denver.

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