Man gets probation in 'mercy killing' case

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A judge on Friday sentenced the Sun City man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter after shooting his wife to two years of unsupervised probation.

George Sanders, 86, said his 81-year-old wife begged him to put her out of her misery. He called it a "mercy killing."

Virginia "Ginger" Sanders was found shot in the head inside the couple's home on Nov. 9 and died two days later in a hospital.

Sanders, who by all accounts adored his wife and took excellent care of her, told investigators Virginia had suffered from multiple sclerosis for several years and was in declining health. He said she was facing imminent hospitalization and would eventually be placed in a nursing home.

George and Virginia Sanders

"She never wanted to outlive me and be left at the mercy of someone else," Sanders told Maricopa County Sheriff's detective in an interrogation video released earlier this month. That video also showed Sanders putting head down on the table and sobbing.

“This is really a love story,” Sanders' lawyer, Tom Henze, said a few weeks after the shooting. “It’s really a long, long love story that has a very sad, final chapter."

Originally charged with first-degree murder, which by definition requires premeditation, Sanders pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter on Feb. 19.

Sanders' son, grandson and daughter-in-law all spoke at his sentencing hearing Friday, telling the judge that they did not want to see Sanders incarcerated. Even the prosecution in the case recommended probation.

Sanders, a World War II veteran, was facing nearly 13 years in prison, but the judge, calling this a unique case, opted for unsupervised probation.

"I'm delighted. I'm happy. I'm relieved," Sanders said in an exclusive interview with 3TV's Crystal Cruz after the hearing. "The judge was wonderful. ... I want to go home and just think about everything that went by and Ginger and be together with the kids.

"I've made myself keep busy," Sanders continued. "The nights are bad. The early mornings are bad sometimes. It'll be awhile before I get over that.

"I tried to make her laugh every day," he said of his late wife. "I tried to make her smile. And most of all I got her out of the house every day."

Sanders said he took Virginia for a drive every day, always asking her to choose a direction as he backed out of their Sun City garage.

"Our house was a house of love, laughter and music. We'd laugh at each other. We'd laugh with each other. And we sang -- constantly."

George Sanders and his family joined 3TV's Crystal Cruz for an exclusive interview after the sentencing hearing