An 88-year-old man has been charged with murder in the shooting of his ill wife at a Southern California nursing home.

Roy Charles Laird was charged with one felony count of murder, with a sentencing enhancement for use of a firearm causing death, said Scott Simmons, Orange County senior deputy district attorney prosecutor.

If convicted, Laird would face a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in state prison. He was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon but the hearing was postponed until Nov. 30.

Laird handed over a .38-caliber revolver to police Sunday after gunfire was reported at Country Villa Healthcare Center in Seal Beach. His 86-year-old wife, Clara Laird, was discovered with a gunshot wound to the head. She had suffered years of debilitating dementia and declining health.

The couple's daughter has described the shooting as a mercy killing.

Simmons said it's appropriate to file murder charges initially, but considering the nature of the case, it's not expected to stick.

"It's a tragic case, just tragic — they'd been married almost 70 years, he obviously loved her. I guess he just couldn't go on like this," Simmons said. "Up front we're filing murder charges, but that's not to say it can't be reduced."

A similarly desperate scenario unfolded last year in an Orange County murder-suicide of an elderly couple.

James Fish, a 90-year-old former doctor, was charged with voluntary manslaughter in the deadly shooting of his wife, who was sick with terminal cancer. The charges were dropped weeks later, after he died of self-inflicted wounds.

The Lairds married in their teens and lived together at the Leisure World retirement community in Seal Beach until about three months ago, when Clara's late-stage dementia came to require constant care.

Laird's daughter Kathy Palmateer, 68, told the Los Angeles Times that her mother was unable to feed herself, walk, sit up in a wheelchair, or recognize people around her.

Palmateer said her father, a retired engineer, had cared for her mother for five years at home before reluctantly agreeing to put her in a convalescent home, where he visited her three times a day.