When Mrs. Heather Sugar began seeing the signs of dementia in herself in 2010, she was immediately worried about ending up like her parents, who had both suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, 88-year-old Joseph Sugar, was worried too—the last thing he wanted was to be separated from his wife or have her forget who he was. They’d been married for 50 years, raised two children together, ran motels in New South Wales and Victoria, and had a great
But their worst fears were soon realized when in 2013, Heather was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was only a matter of time before Heather could no longer take care of herself.
Joseph remained Heather’s caretaker until 2018, when her condition took a nosedive. When she was no longer able to do much for herself or recognize anyone, the couple’s two children made the difficult decision to move their parents out of their retirement village and into separate units at an aged care facility.
Joseph couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from his wife and hated to watch her suffering. So he took the only chance he believed he had to improve the situation. One night, he injected both his wife and himself with insulin in the hopes of peacefully ending both their lives.
However, the idea didn’t work. Both Joseph and Heather awoke the next morning, although they were found to be in need of medical care, as Heather’s condition was life-threatening. When paramedics arrived on the scene, Joseph initially claimed that Heather had injected herself with the insulin and that he had not yet had his dose. He later admitted that he had been the one to inject his wife.
When police went to investigate the situation, they discovered ripped up notes inside the couple’s home, including one addressed to their children.
“I’m sorry to do this to you…. I have decided on my own will to pump some insulin into myself and your mother, hoping that it will solve our problems,” the note read. “I would prefer to end this peacefully. Love to you.”
Joseph was charged with attempting to murder his wife and listened to his hearing via video link, unable to attend in person. Luckily, however, the judge saw the innocent motivations behind the crime and took pity on him.
“You believed that the insulin that you had injected would result in peaceful deaths for both of you,” Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said. “Where offending has occurred not because of anger or greed or other base motives, but rather from love for the victim and the desire to end their suffering, a modified approach to the issue of remorse is appropriate. In the circumstances of this case, I am moved to exercise mercy and to impose a non-custodial sentence.”
Hollingsworth spared Joseph any jail time, but he still has to deal with a two-year “adjourned undertaking” of good behavior, as well as the heartbreak of being separated from his wife. Heather now resides in a secure unit in the aged care centre, and Joseph is only allowed to visit her with supervision.
“Mum was dignified, immaculate and always busy, even when she stopped working,” said the Sugars’ daughter, Audrey Marriner. “I don’t feel like Mum or I are victims of a crime. We are victims of a horrific illness which impacts entire families. Perhaps our little family did not cope with it very well.”
She continued, “There is no right way to cope when you are faced with a future where you know you will lose your dignity and quality of life. Where the people you love, including young children, will watch you decline. That they’ll see you soil yourself, scream and shout and terrify them until the medication calms you.”
Marriner’s brother, David Sugar, laments the stress his father was under that caused him to try to kill his wife. “I believe he was at the end of his rope and made a terrible, spur-of-the-moment decision that I am certain that he would never repeat,” he said.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?