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 did as much planning as possible to end their lives on Nov. 11. They just didn't plan on him living.
The husband botched his suicide attempt and ended up in a courtroom Tuesday, pleading guilty to a manslaughter charge in the fatal stabbing of his wife in their Flower Hill 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.
Sham is expected to receive five years probation and undergo psychological counseling when he is sentenced on Feb. 6. He is recovering from the suicide attempt, appearing in court in a wheelchair Tuesday.
"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 on criminal charges after authorities learned he had assisted in his wife's suicide, a violation of New York law.
The couple went to elaborate lengths to prepare for their deaths, authorities said. They 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 on Nov. 11 and got no response, police were sent to the 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, said Sham's defense attorney, James O'Rourke.
"They worked together, they lived together, they did everything together," O'Rourke said. "It was one of those rare marriages that both were very, very loving, committed people."
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.
O'Rourke said doctors estimated that his client would have died in about 15 minutes had he not been found by authorities when he did.
"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."