Woman killed to end her pain ... but she wasn't ill

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A man in Hebron, Nebraska shot and killed his wife to end her suffering from colon cancer. But an autopsy found no trace of the disease.

It was not immediately known whether doctors had misdiagnosed the woman, her husband had misunderstood the diagnosis, or if she had been cured.

Vernal Ohlrich, 76, shot and killed his wife, Phyllis Ohlrich, 74, in her hospital bed on Oct 27 (1998). They had been married 57 years. He said that he killed her to end her suffering, and that she had said that she wanted to die. He also claimed that immediately after killing her he attempted to kill himself, but the gun jammed.

But according to Thayer County prosecutor Daniel Werner, "The autopsy reports indicate that there was no evidence of cancer."

Werner said he believes that Ohlrich thought his wife was suffering from cancer when he killed her. Mrs Ohlrich had an operation for colon cancer in May 1998. Following that she had chemotherapy for several months. She was readmitted to the hospital in September for a back injury. Werner noted that it is possible that the back injury, and not cancer, was the source of her pain.

Mr Ohlrich pled "no contest" to manslaughter after the prosecutor agreed to drop charges of first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony. Werner said he would seek some prison time but did not know how much. He said he agreed to the plea bargain because it would be pointless to give the elderly man a long prison sentence.

"That is the problem with so-called mercy killings", Werner said. "I'm convinced Ohlrich believed she was in imminent threat of death from cancer. He was wrong."

Ohlrich said he did not regret his actions. "She said she wanted to die several times. I was with her every day."


"Wife killed to end pain wasn't ill". Reuters. Feb 8, 1999.

"Nebraska: Woman Shot in Euthanasia Attempt Had no Cancer". Infonet News. Feb 9, 1999.

Posted 6 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 1999 by Ohio Right to Life.
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