A judge has shown mercy to an elderly man who has avoided a jail after attempting to kill his wife and himself “for love”.

Joseph Sugar, 88, injected himself and his wife of 50 years, Heather, with insulin two days before they were due to move into separate buildings in the same residential aged care facility.

Mrs Sugar was diagnosed with dementia in  2014, and was no longer able to care for herself or recognise her family or carers.

Judge Elizabeth Hollingworth delivered the sentence on Monday as Mr Sugar and his two children, Audrey and David, listened in through a video link.

The love of the accused’s life

Mr Sugar was born in Hungary and his father died when he was eight. Aged 20, Mr Sugar emigrated to Australia, and in the mid-1960s met his wife Heather, whom he described as “the love of his life”.

Mr and Mrs Sugar established a successful motel business in Victoria and New South Wales, and had two children, Audrey and David. The couple were married for more than 50 years.

Audrey described her mother during the plea hearing as “intelligent, loving, funny and very fit”. She earned her pilot’s license, and was proud of her family and their success. She was “immaculate” and “believed in good manners”.

A family history of dementia

Mrs Sugar had seen family members succumb to dementia, and has always been worried she would develop it too. 

“She often spoke of her fear that she would lose her mind, like both of her parents before her,” Audrey said.

The day after Mrs Sugar she received her dementia diagnosis, she went to her golf club, emptied out her locker, and left a note for her friends saying that they would not see her again. 

“She just could not bear to face it given what had been noticed – noted in relation to the care of her own mother,” the court heard.

The likely catalyst

Mr Sugar cared for his wife, and in 2014 they moved into a retirement village. Mrs Sugar’s health continued to deteriorate to the point that she could not take care of herself and did not recognise anyone. The family consequently made the decision to move the couple into residential aged care, where Mrs Sugar would live in a separate building. 

Prosecutor Justin Lewis told the hearing, “It was this separation after approximately 50 years of marriage that was the likely catalyst for the accused’s offending”.

The move was to take place on Monday 17 December. 

On Saturday 15 December, the court heard that Mr Sugar administered lethal doses of insulin to Mrs Sugar and then to himself.

“You believed that the insulin you had injected would result in peaceful deaths for both of you,” Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said in her sentencing remarks.

But Mr and Mrs Sugar woke the next day, and were taken to hospital. Doctor’s raised the alarm when they found that both Mr and Mrs Sugar had high levels of insulin in their system, and police were alerted.

A police guarding Mr Sugar found a note written by the elderly man that said, “Hi Aud, I am very sorry to do this to you and David. I have decided on my own will to pump some insulin into myself and your mother, hoping that we will solve our problems. I would prefer to end this peacefully.” 

Mr Sugar, who had initially said his wife had tried to take her own life, then pleaded guilty to trying to kill his wife.

Offending for love

In sentencing, the judge took Mr Sugar’s remorse into account.

“Where offending has occurred not because of anger, greed or other base motives, but rather from love for the victim and a desire to end their suffering, a modified approach to the issue of remorse is appropriate.”

The judge pointed to three similar cases, where a husband had attempted to murder their wives and take their own lives at the same time. In each case a non-custodial sentence was handed down.

The judge said the circumstances of the case were “exceptional”, and that a “just” but “merciful” sentence was the most appropriate path.

Justice Hollingworth sentenced Mr Sugar to a two-year “adjourned undertaking” of good behaviour.

Image: urbazon, iStock.

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