Husband in 'mercy killing' charged with second-degree murder

Posted: Updated:
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

SUN CITY, Ariz. – The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said Thursday that it will charge a Sun City man involved in a so-called “mercy killing” with second-degree murder.

"You can't claim there's a mercy killing and all of the sudden we're all going to be sympathetic and we're going to look for a far different resolution than we would for anybody else who might commit a homicide," explained Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Howard Rudolph, 78, is accused of shooting and killing his wife, Earlene, last Wednesday.

“I had to do it,” Rudolph told Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies after his arrest, according to court paperwork.

Investigators believe Rudolph intended to kill himself after allegedly killing his 73-year-old wife inside their Sun City home.

Investigators said Rudolph had written a note to his attorney containing specific instructions on how “the bodies” should be cremated and how the couple’s home should be handled.

Howard also reportedly told a doctor that he killed his wife and drank too much alcohol on Wednesday morning.

In addition to a .38 revolver and a bottle of Southern Comfort, detectives who searched the Rudolph home found a handwritten note that talked about how hateful Earlene was and how Rudolph could no longer stand to be with her even though he loved her.

Rudolph told detectives that he wrote the note.

The Rudolphs had been married for 13 years.

MCSO booked Rudolph on suspicion of first-degree murder, but it was up to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to decide how to charge him.

Another "mercy killing"

Earlier this year, another Sun City man was sentenced to unsupervised probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of his wife, which he described as a "mercy killing."

The circumstances in that case were quite different from that of the Rudolphs.

George Sanders, 86, said his 81-year-old wife, Virginia, begged him to put her out of her misery. 

Sanders, who by all accounts adored his wife and took excellent care of her, told investigators that 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.

"This is really a love story,” Sanders' lawyer, Tom Henze, said a few weeks after the November 2012 shooting. “It’s really a long, long love story that has a very sad, final chapter."

Sanders was originally charged with first-degree murder, but later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. With that plea, he was facing nearly 13 years in prison.

The judge who sentenced Sanders to unsupervised probation called the case unique.

Mike Gertzman contributed to this story.

An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Rudolph was charged with first-degree murder.