Elderly Man Beat Wife With Dementia to Death With Iron Bar in 'Mercy Killing'

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In this file photo, forensic technicians work outside a home in Stockport, U.K., on January 10, 2018 in Stockport, U.K. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

An elderly man who beat his dementia-suffering wife to death has been spared jail over what a judge labeled an "act of mercy."

Lawrence Franks, 84, killed wife Patricia, 86, to stop her from being taken to a care home as her condition deteriorated. Though convicted of manslaughter, the Stockport, U.K., resident was given a two-year suspended prison sentence meaning he will not be put behind bars, the Manchester Evening News reported.

A court in the nearby city of Manchester heard that Patricia had begged her husband not to let her be taken into a care home, despite her worsening dementia. Lawrence—himself struggling with ill health—became unable to cope as his wife deteriorated since her diagnosis around 10 years ago. and she became unable to recognize him.

Lawrence's wife of 62 years became immobile, incontinent and was unable to recognize her husband. This placed a huge strain on Lawrence, who days before the killing suffered a hernia while moving Patricia between her bed and her armchair.

Once it became clear his wife would have to go into care, Lawrence decided to kill her. The court heard that the 84 year old repeatedly hit his wife in the back of the head with a metal scaffolding poll on July 7. Believing she was not yet dead, he then smothered her with a pillow. Patricia was "completely unaware" of the attack, the court was told.

Lawrence was arrested after the incident and charged with murder. But this week a judge accepted a guilty plea to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.

Judge David Stockdale said the defendant was a "devoted man" who showed "nothing but love and affection" for his wife, even to the point of her death.

"This is a most unusual and very sad case and most would say heartbreaking," Stockdale said to Lawrence. "You and your wife were happily married for 62 years. You were utterly devoted to each other throughout your marriage and during the decline in her health as you cared for her."

"You took care of her despite your own age without outside help and your dedicated to her was undoubtedly unconditional," he continued.

Stockdale noted the victim had been "particularly anxious not to be placed in a care home, and this was said so repeatedly that this was a genuine concern." But the judge explained that as Patricia's health worsened, "the burden of looking after her became even harder for you. Yet you continued to care for your wife without assistance."

"She was completely unaware of what happened to her," the judge added. "There was an abnormality in your mental function. Doctors have confirmed this was diminished responsibility."

In his closing statement, Stockdale explained, "The act was a spur of the moment and your genuine belief this was an act of mercy. No two cases are the same. This is far from showing malice or ill will."