Stephen Kruspe told police he purposely shot his wife Pamela to fulfill her wish to die and end her suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 61.
Prosecutors say that confession from four years ago proves first-degree murder, as mercy killings are illegal in Florida and there was no doubt about what happened.
But new evidence is raising questions about the violent ending to the couple’s 42-year marriage. Laboratory tests revealed Pam’s DNA was on the handle of the gun when it went off at a Boynton Beach assisted-living facility.
With Steve still accused of firing the .45-caliber handgun once at Pam’s chest, it’s unclear how the DNA discovery could alter what was previously understood about the tragic shooting.
Kruspe’s lawyer says the scientific finding, disclosed by prosecutors only two months ago, casts doubt that his client committed intentional or premeditated murder on March 27, 2017.
“Mr. Kruspe never intended to harm or kill his wife,” defense attorney Chris Haddad told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, declining to share what he’ll tell a jury.
At a hearing next month Kruspe, 67, intends to reject the prosecution’s offer of a 25-year prison sentence in exchange for pleading guilty, Haddad said.
When the trial starts in mid-January, the defense hopes to show how the horrors of dementia robbed the couple of their golden years.
“Steve loved Pam … was always there for her from the time that they were dating, throughout their lives and definitely after she got sick,” Haddad said. “At trial the evidence will come out in terms of everything that occurred, how it occurred and why it occurred.”
‘Incredible level of love’
Within hours of the shooting, Steve Kruspe told detectives he “lost his sense of honor,” records show.
Steve had served decades in the U.S. Marine Corps and Reserve that included multiple tours of combat duty. He held the rank of master sergeant. Pam raised the couple’s three children by herself while he was away, but friends have written letters to the court stating that the marriage never suffered despite the long deployments.
“This exceptionally tight bond is exactly what Steve and Pam had, coupled with an incredible level of love and happiness,” wrote Douglas Todd, of Lorton, Virginia, who served with Steve beginning in the late 1980s.
In 1990, the Kruspes moved to South Florida when he took a job as operations chief for a 248-member reserve unit. Pam, a long-distance runner, competed in the New York City Marathon and in events closer to home in Lake Worth.
After retiring from the Marines, Steve accepted a job teaching leadership for Deerfield Beach High School’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program. And in 2010, he took a job managing operations at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum.
By 2014, Pam’s mental and physical health had already started failing. Court records show she had depression and anxiety along with memory loss, and on two occasions she had to be hospitalized for expressing suicidal intentions.
In early 2017, she moved to the Parkside Inn Assisted Living facility for dementia patients. Steve visited her every day.
He bought the gun from a sporting goods store, deciding he was “willing to sacrifice everything to get her where she wanted to be.”
On her last day alive, Steve checked Pam out of the facility and he took her for a cup of coffee at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. They returned to Parkside Inn, close to 7 p.m.
Steve then exited a side door, and went to his car to retrieve a pistol. He walked with Pam to a back patio. He says there wasn’t a struggle before he aimed and fired at 7:34 p.m.
‘Selfish and callous act’
Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott says it was a cold, deliberate killing by a “combat-experienced Marine.”
“This was a violent murderous act,” Scott argued in a pleading last September, saying that Kruspe “brutally shot her in the chest and then allowed her to bleed to death while he watched.”
The prosecutor said there was nothing accidental about what he called a “selfish and callous act” that took her away from her children and others.
Two of their three adult children objected when Kruspe last fall asked to be released from Palm Beach County Jail and put on house arrest. He is still behind bars.
The prosecutor said Steve Kruspe couldn’t cope with his wife’s sickness so “he elected to steal her spirit and companionship from everyone who loved her.”
Battle over health records
Both sides are currently fighting over the defense’s request to obtain the victim’s confidential medical records, which purportedly show the woman’s desire to stop living.
Without those files, the jurors would have only Steve Kruspe’s word to go on about what his wife actually wanted.
“Mrs. Kruspe expressed to various persons including, but not limited to, medical and mental health professionals that she was despondent about her declining condition and did not wish to live in that condition,” Haddad wrote May 21.
He’s asking Circuit Judge Caroline Cahill Shepherd to order — over the prosecution’s objection — the release of the records from various doctors and facilities.
Haddad contends this is one of the few circumstances where strict confidentiality can and should be breached.
The jury is “entitled to know” about what Pam said, and how this shows Steve’s “intent was not to commit homicide or end his wife’s life at the time of the fatal shot,” the lawyer wrote.
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Now that the DNA is an issue, it’s even more relevant, Haddad argues.
“The evidence of expressions of not wanting to live as her condition worsened is relevant in light of the DNA evidence that placed her hand on the grip,” the attorney explained. He added that the records “would cast doubt on the State’s theory of guilt and to which, and if any, degree of unlawful homicide was committed.”
But prosecutor Scott argues that the records should remain sealed, as no evidence should be allowed at trial to support a “mercy killing” defense. He says the jurors should not even be informed that the victim had Alzheimer’s.
Haddad insists his client “does not rely on mercy killing as a defense,” but needs the records of his wife’s “suicidal statements” to defend against the murder charge and put the shooting in the proper context.
“These statements are relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, as well as to guilt of a lesser offense,” the lawyer wrote, noting it will “help explain the actions of both persons involved.”