A man has been given a suspended three-year sentence for attempting to murder his elderly mother in an attempted mercy killing, after the judge ruled his motivation was entirely compassionate.
Veronica (Vera) Vollrath, aged 83, was pronounced dead on January 9, 2012, at Killure Bridge Nursing Home, Killure, Co Waterford. Her son admitted holding a pillow over her face while keeping vigil by her death bed. The Austrian resident was charged with her murder.
Gerald Vollrath, aged 47, of Tramore Heights, Tramore, Co Waterford, had pleaded not guilty to her murder, but the murder charge against him was dropped in December, and he pleaded guilty to attempted murder instead.
The Central Criminal Court was told last week that this was because pathological exams found no sign of suffocation and it could not be said with absolute certainty that she was not already dead.
Ms Vollrath had suffered a severe stroke, had Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart and kidney problems and was receiving end-of-life care.
The aviation worker was keeping vigil by her side on the night of January 8 when he put a pillow over her face and held it there for up to two minutes.
The Central Criminal Court heard that the gardaí’s view was that Mr Vollrath’s only concern was his mother’s suffering.
Mr Justice Paul Carney described the case as distressing. He said that mercy killing was a concept totally unknown to our law.
He took a number of mitigating factors into account when deciding on a sentence. “The motivation was entirely compassionate and not at all malevolent.”
He also noted the family’s desire for compassion, Mr Vollrath’s early plea and genuine remorse, lack of previous convictions, and the support of his wife and family.
He imposed a three-year sentence, but suspended it on Mr Vollrath entering into a €1,000 bond to be of good behaviour for three years.
Outside the courtroom, Mr Vollrath embraced family members as well as members of the gardaí.
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