By Kathleen Gilbert

LONDON, October 15, 2008 ( – A man who was found guilty of murdering his unwilling elderly wife by smothering her with two plastic bags has escaped a jail sentence in a ruling by London’s Central Criminal Court.

Eric Norton, 86, was apparently in high spirits at the end of last week’s trial, and blew a kiss to supporters in the public gallery on his way out of the courtroom, according to Independent Television News.

Last November, Norton smothered his 84-year-old wife Betty, an Alzheimer’s sufferer who was in the hospital for stomach pains. Other hospital patients said they could hear Betty whimpering “no, no” as she struggled to stop her husband from killing her. 

Norton, a retired civil servant from New Cross, south-east London, was given a nine-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Judge Brian Barker, the Common Serjeant of London, in handing down the sentence expressed sympathy for Norton. “The last thing that you had wanted to do was this and you had clearly dedicated yourself to your wife’s welfare,” he said.

“I am totally convinced you are a thoughtful, kind and honest man and had been a devoted husband.” 

According to the BBC, when Betty was first diagnosed earlier the same year with Alzheimer’s, her husband refused the help of social services, and chose to be her sole caretaker. 

After smothering his wife of 57 years, Norton told his niece he wanted to kill himself. 

The judge expressed pity, telling Norton: “It was increasingly difficult for you to shoulder that burden. Society may understand your act but they cannot condone it.”

Following the ruling, the BBC reports that Norton thanked friends and police, saying, “I haven’t had anyone that has failed to support me. I feel I must say thank you.”

Wesley Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery institute, bioethicist and expert on the issue of euthanasia, denounced Betty’s death as another case of “terminal non-judgementalism,” where courts refuse to meaningfully punish those who murder sick or disabled loved ones. 

“The murder not only killed Betty, it was a stab in the heart of the intrinsic importance of each human life,” wrote Smith about the case.

“Moreover, the court’s leniency praised the act with faint damnation, sending a powerful message that Betty’s life – and those of people like her – don’t matter all that much.

“So, this crime was greater than the sum of its parts,” Smith warned. “The more we wink at these murders, the greater the threat to vulnerable people like Betty, and the increased respectability accorded to the view that such people have lives less worthy of being lived.”


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