Man accused of shooting elderly wife in 'mercy killing' released from jail

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SUN CITY, Ariz. -- An 85-year-old Sun City man charged with killing his wife is out of jail.  The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said George Sanders was released Monday, just three days after telling police he shot his wife because she asked him to do it.

While Sanders now faces first-degree murder charges some believe the killing was far less than criminal, characterizing it as an act of compassion.

Standing in black-and-white jail clothes for his first court appearance Saturday, Sanders quickly interjected, “my wife,” when the judge characterized Virginia Sanders as “the victim.”  He also asked the judge for help after admitting he didn’t understand or have “any experience” with the criminal justice system.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a favor?” George Sanders asked the judge before being taken back to his jail cell.  “I’m so cold and I’ve been so cold.  At my age my back is spasming and I can’t stop.  Could I be given a blanket or two?” 

Back in the quiet Sun City community where George and Virginia lived, neighbors said George was a loving husband who had been taking care of his wife for years.  Those who knew the couple referred to them as Scotty and Ginger.

“I don't believe Ginger would have ever lived this long if it hadn't been for Scotty taking care of her the way he did,” said Louise Lovett, a neighbor down the street.

Police documents said George told police he shot his wife because she asked him to. He first called Virginia’s caregiver to explain what he’d done. After that, he told Maricopa County deputies the same thing, adding that his wife was sick and had recently been told by a doctor that she needed hospitalized.  He explained to MCSO that his wife was in pain and wanted him to shoot her.

Although Virginia Sanders didn't immediately die, she passed away at the hospital a couple days after the incident. 

Neighbors said Virginia had multiple sclerosis and had been in a wheelchair for years.  One of the couple’s sons had also just died, according to what neighbors told 3TV.

“There are times when you get old like this, you feel like you've lived too damn long,” said 91-year-old neighbor DuWayne Jensen, adding that he believes that’s what happened with Virginia Sanders.

The George and Virginia Sanders story seems a sad and tragic scenario that right-to-die advocate Freda Anderson said is happening more often.

“Nobody wants to see a life ended this way,” said Anderson, president of Compassion and Choices Arizona.  “No one should have to have their life ended that way or resort to those desperate measures.”

Anderson said that for many people it’s not a choice of life or death, but rather a decision about how to die.  She believes if people were more open to discussing end-of-life issues, and the options that are available, tragic stories would play out less often.

 “Even as we come up to Thanksgiving, we always say this is the perfect time - when you're at home gathered around the table with grandma and grandpa – let’s talk about, ‘how would you like to die?’” Anderson said.  “’Would you like to die at home?  Do you have any special requests?   What's your idea of a peaceful and dignified death?’  Because that's what we're all entitled to.”

While Sanders is charged with first-degree murder, the prosecutor at his arraignment did call this a “mercy killing.”

Sanders was released on a $20,000 bond – hundreds of thousands of dollars lower than normally set for a first-degree murder suspect -- and is due back in court on Friday.