GLENS FALLS -- A Glens Falls man was charged with manslaughter on Sunday because, according to police, he helped his mentally ill wife commit suicide last week by buying a gun for her, teaching her to use it and loading it before leaving her alone in their home.
Willard F. Skellie, 69, of Leonard Street, was charged with second-degree manslaughter after an investigation into the death of his wife, 59-year-old Kathy Skellie, over the weekend.
The charge is brought under a subsection of the law that alleging a person “intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide.”
Mrs. Skellie was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head Saturday morning. Her husband reported finding her dead in her bedroom, and reported she had been despondent because of severe mental problems, according to court records.
Mr. Skellie was also charged with tampering with physical evidence, a felony, for allegedly moving the gun used in the shooting and removing a note his wife had written that detailed how to use the gun, based on his instructions, court records show.
Because of inconsistencies in her husband’s story and because some of the evidence found in the room where she died was out of place, Glens Falls Police looked further into the story, and Mr. Skellie eventually admitted his role in helping her kill herself, Glens Falls Police Detective Sgt. Peter Casertino said.
Mr. Skellie initially told police he arrived home from a hunting trip on Saturday to find his wife dead.
Glens Falls Police sought help from Hudson Falls Police and State Police, and their investigation led to a request Saturday that Mr. Skellie take a lie detector test with the State Police in Greenwich.
He failed that test, and early Sunday confessed to police he bought the 12-gauge shotgun, taught his wife to use it and loaded it for her so she could kill herself, according to police and court records.
He told police he gave it to her before he left to go hunting Friday afternoon, then did not check on her when he returned that night, court records allege.
He went hunting again early Saturday and when he did not hear from her when he returned mid morning, he forced his way into her locked bedroom to find her dead, police said.
She had asked him to buy her a gun and said she “wanted to kill herself,” Mr. Skellie is quoted as saying.
Authorities said she had unsuccessfully tried suicide with a knife earlier this year, and her husband told police she had been despondent because of “panic attacks.” She did not leave her room, and had health problems from the medication she was taking, according to Mr. Skellie.
He wrote that he tampered with the first two rounds he loaded in the gun so they would not fire, and was surprised that his wife was able to get past those rounds to the one that she used to take her life.
“I didn’t think she would fire past the two rounds into the live rounds,” he told Glens Falls Police, according to court records.
An autopsy performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Sikirica led to the conclusion the death was suicide and not homicide, police said.
“We’re confident this is the way it played out,” Casertino said.
Mr. Skellie’s statements to police portray his wife as a shut-in who had reached her limit. He told police he “wanted to help her deal with her pain.”
“She is in mental pain from everything,” he is quoted as telling police in court records. “She just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said the circumstances fit the second-degree manslaughter subsection for aiding suicide.
“Obviously, it’s a very tragic situation and we’re reviewing the case,” she said.
The Skellies lived alone in a quaint, two-story home. A boarder had stayed in the home in recent months but moved out earlier last week, police said.
No one answered the door at the home Monday morning.
The couple had been the subject of a number of articles in The Post-Star because they adopted at least one child with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, several years ago. Mrs. Skellie had said the couple pursued the adoption after she read magazine articles about orphaned children with the disease.
Local prosecutors have used the manslaughter charge in at least one assisted-suicide case in recent years.
A Malta woman pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 1-1/2 to 4-1/2 years in state prison in 1998 for helping her husband commit suicide by gunshot.
Mr. Skellie was arraigned in Glens Falls City Court and sent to Warren County Jail for lack of $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bail bond.
Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 5 to 15 years in state prison.