Elderly Man Gets 10 Years for 'Mercy Killing'

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An 84-year-old man who said he strangled his wife of more than 50 years as she slipped deeper into Alzheimer's disease (search) was sentenced to prison by a judge who said the case was the toughest he had faced on the bench.

William Wallace Hurt (search) was sentenced Wednesday to a 10-year prison term, to be suspended after he serves one year, for killing 83-year-old Neva Hurt.

Hurt had pleaded no contest in March to second-degree murder.

On Easter morning 2004, Hurt placed a plastic bag over his wife's head to end what he said was her steady decline to the disease. He then attempted to kill himself — first by placing a bag over his head, then by ingesting weed killer and finally by striking his head repeatedly with a hammer.

A medical examiner ruled Neva Hurt died from manual strangulation.

"It is the most difficult case that I've been involved in," Judge James Swanson said from the bench.

Swanson said he would recommend that Hurt be placed in a medical unit.

"Having some experience as a caregiver, I am fully cognizant of the relentless nature of that awesome responsibility," he told Hurt. "It cannot justify what happened. It cannot."

Defense attorney David Damico had argued for a conviction of manslaughter instead of murder, saying Hurt's actions "were a product of unbearable stress."

"Bill had reached the end of his rope," Damico said.

Prosecutor Randy Leach emphasized that Hurt should have some punishment for taking his wife's life, adding that help was on the way, because social service workers had been scheduled to go to the home to arrange in-home health care.