GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – They canceled their cell phone service and stopped their Social Security benefits. They prepaid their 2008 income taxes, heating and electric bills and left tips for the housekeepers in their Florida vacation home. They even left their attorney stamps to pay the bills.
Dr. Rajaeskar Sham and his 69-year-old, terminally ill wife, Lucila, made extensive plans before attempting to end their lives Nov. 11, but they didn't plan on one of them surviving.
The husband botched his suicide attempt and ended up in a courtroom Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of his wife in their Long Island home.
The 68-year-old retired radiologist told authorities that Lucila Sham had terminal cancer, possibly with only weeks to live, and neither wanted to ever live alone or apart from the other.
Rajaeskar Sham's defense attorney, James O'Rourke, said doctors estimated that his client would have died with his wife had he been found just 15 minutes later than he was.
"It is not that he failed to love, but that he loved too well," the lawyer said. "She begged him repeatedly and the doctor, in a love that was more than love, went forward with this."
Sham is expected to receive five years' probation and undergo psychological counseling when he is sentenced Feb. 6. He is recovering from the suicide attempt and appeared in court in a wheelchair.
"Jail or a prolonged legal process would serve no meaningful purpose in this case," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. "The only effect his incarceration would have is on the taxpayers of this county having to foot the bill for someone who is of no danger to our residents."
Rice said although the couple planned to each kill themselves, Rajaeskar Sham was arrested after authorities learned he had assisted in his wife's suicide, a violation of New York law.
The couple had recently updated their wills and hired an attorney to oversee their estate. The Shams also told the attorney of their intentions to each commit suicide and they asked the attorney to check on them regularly. Authorities said the attorney faces no criminal culpability because the law does not require someone to report an impending or threatened suicide.
When the attorney, who was not identified by authorities, checked on the couple Nov. 11 and got no response, police were sent to the Flower Hill home to investigate. Lucila Sham was lying dead in the bathroom and her husband was unconscious nearby, with stab wounds to his arm, neck and abdomen.
Sham told authorities his wife tried to take her own life, but was unable to inflict the fatal injuries. So he took the knife and killed her before turning a different knife on himself.
The couple, who were married in 1969, had no children or close relatives but were virtually inseparable. She worked as the office manager in his Queens medical practice before he retired, O'Rourke said.
"They worked together, they lived together, they did everything together," O'Rourke said.
In planning for their demise, the couple left instructions in their wills that their estate be shared between the University of Madras in India, where Sham earned his medical degree, and the Nature Conservancy's South Fork/Shelter Island chapter. They also emptied a safe deposit box days before the suicide, prosecutors said. It was not known what was in the deposit box.