Is Wife-icide Legal in Florida?

by Reason McLucus

originally published at

In most states a husband who killed his wife to inherit money and to be able to marry his new lover without the costs of divorce would be imprisoned for murder. A Florida man is attempting to avoid that fate by persuading a state judge to order his wife’s death.

Conviction for murder normally requires the prosecution to prove “means, motive and opportunity. “ Inheritance and dumping a spouse for a new lover without the costs of divorce are common motives for murdering a spouse.

“Means” refers to the method used. Normally a spouse must have access to a “weapon” capable of causing death. The weapon might be a gun, knife, poison, etc. In rare cases a would be killer may be able to take advantage of a victims’s allergy or arrange what appears to be an accident for the victim..

“Opportunity” means being able to use the weapon, particularly using the weapon without the presence of witnesses. Opportunity can also mean being able to use the “weapon” in a way that doesn’t arouse suspicion or appears to be legal, for example being able to claim self defense. In the latter case a prosecutor would have to prove the killing was really illegal, for example by disproving the “self defense” claim.

Michael Schiavo’s current effort to have the court order his wife Terri Schiavo  killed could be described as legalized “murder”. A court order to have doctors kill his wife through starvation could exempt him from a murder charge even though he has motive(an inheritance and divorce without a property settlement or alimony), means(Terri cannot obtain food or fluids without assistance) and opportunity(a court order). Or, maybe not.

Michael Schiavo has a very capable attorney helping him get a court order to kill his wife. However, he should really consult with a good criminal defense attorney before continuing his efforts. The arguments that Terri is “already essentially dead” or “brain dead” could hurt him in a criminal murder case.

Michael could be vulnerable if a prosecutor could convince a court that he caused the condition that rendered her “brain dead”. The fact that a court ordered her feeding tube removed to completely end her life wouldn’t help Michael if he were charged with murder. The question would be whether he caused the condition that resulted in her death.

An attempt by him to argue that she died as a result of the court order would automatically make him guilty of killing his wife by lying to the court about her condition.

There is no statute of limitations on murder. This fact could potentially be interpreted to also mean that there is no limitation on the amount of time elapsing between the act that causes a death and the actual issuance of a death certificate stating that the body is completely dead.

The farther back Michael placed Terri’s “brain death” the worse he would be as a defendant in a murder case. An early “death” only recently “discovered” by the prosecution would help explain to the jury why the case was being filed to long after the “death”.

Michael’s attorneys in the suit against the hospital argued that a “potassium deficiency” caused Terri to have a heart attack that in turned caused brain damage. There was no evidence of any such deficiency. As often happens in malpractice suits, the plaintiff won because the hospital failed to use a test that could have indicated whether a specified condition existed or not.

Dr. Michael Baden, chief pathologist for the City of New York and director of the New York State Police Forensic Sciences Unit, questioned the claim of a potassium deficiency in an interview by Greta van Susteren. He said such a situation would be “very unusual”. He suggested a physical trauma such as a beating provided a more likely explanation. He cited a bone scan indicating a head injury and other bone injuries.

On a subsequent episode, Schindler(Terri’s family) family attorney Pat Anderson stated that a doctor who examined Terri when she arrived at the hospital stated she had rigidity of the neck consistent with strangulation. The Schindlers learned about the possible bone injuries and neck rigidity in a 1998 evidentiary hearing.

Anderson also mentioned that during the day before Terri ended up in the hospital she had told a friend that Michael had been upset with her because he claimed she spent too much at the beauty salon. Terri dismissed the friend’s offer to come over saying she would pretend to be asleep when Michael came home and that would prevent a problem.. Terri had discussed divorcing Michael with her friend even though Terri is Catholic.

Michael had an advantage in the malpractice suit against the hospital because of potential juror sentiment sympathetic to his wife’s condition and turned off by the “impersonal” hospital. The fact that the money comes from the insurance company in a malpractice suit often works in the plaintiff’s favor. The jury awarded him $300,000 for his loss due to her condition and $750,000 that was supposed to be put in trust for her rehabilitation.

In a criminal case any sentiment is with the victim. A criminal jury might see an attempt to claim a “very unusual” potassium deficiency as a desperation move by a guilty individual. 

Michael’s behavior after winning the malpractice award could increase the likelihood of a conviction. For example, he told a doctor not to attempt to treat a potentially fatal kidney infection.

The prosecution could call various of the nurses who treated Terri to testify that Michael wanted her dead and talked about becoming rich if Terri died. Jeff Johnson quotes various nurses in the following article discussing Michael’s efforts to prevent his wife from receiving therapy. The nurses also claim that he ignored progress Terri was making and kept their observations from becoming part of her medical record.

In a subsequent article Johnson quotes Carla Sauer Iyer, a Licensed Practical Nurse(LPN) saying that on at least five occasions Michael had gone in to visit his wife alone and after he left Iyer would discover that Terri’s sugar level was so dangerously low that Iyer would have to administer dextrose to Terri to bring the level back up.

Michael’s efforts to discourage any therapy after the malpractice award could be particularly damaging to his case because he was willing to pursue therapy before the lawsuit when health insurance was paying for the therapy. The size of the award was due in part to his statements that he expected Terri to live for many more years. The prosecution could argue that the settlement provided him with a motive for wanting her dead.

Michael probably doesn’t have to worry about being prosecuted for assault or anything else so long as Terri is alive. The length of time since Terri arrived at the hospital probably precludes prosecution for assault even if Terri eventually can tell the police he attacked her. Claims that he might have attempted to poison her would be difficult to prove because of a lack of evidence. 

Her death would provide the opportunity for the prosecution to place all of these allegations in a framework suggesting a pattern of behavior consistent with domestic abuse and murder. 

Prosecutors wouldn’t need to charge Michael with murder immediately after Terri’s death. Prosecutors could take advantage of the lack of a statute of limitations on murder to wait to see if his second wife accused him of abuse. 

Abusers seldom stop on their own. A man who abuses one wife will likely abuse another. 

An allegation of abuse by a second wife would provide evidence of a pattern that prosecutors could use to strengthen a charge of murdering his first wive.

Michael Schiavo’s attempt to end the life of his wife Terri could be the worst thing he could do. He has very little to gain from her death. Most of her money has been spent on attorneys. He could probably get her family to support a divorce without making a claim for alimony or anything else on her behalf. The Schindler’s would be glad to insure that she wouldn’t be killed.

He has little risk of prosecution for anything as long as Terri is alive. If she recovers he is off the hook because her death at some point in the future would likely be from some other cause.

Terri’s death potentially opens Michael to a murder charge. Prosecution might occur immediately after her death or it could occur at some indefinite time in the future. Why is he taking the risk of trying to end his wife’s life?

Florida needs to change its procedures in cases of potential abuse if it hasn’t done so since Terri Schiavo arrived at the hospital. The observation of the rigidity of her neck should have caused the hospital to immediately notify the police. Hospital personnel don’t have the training to investigate potential abuse. The police do. The police can only do their job if they are notified in a timely manner.

Florida should also change court procedures so that money awarded in civil cases for treatment can only be used for that purpose. If the patient dies before the money is spent it should return to the defendant or go to an organization to treat others like the patient.




I have no objections to someone posting this essay on another web site  provided my name is included as the author and there is a notation that it was originally published at