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Bexar County Man Shoots And Kills Wife, Gets Probation

Most Texans who kill someone end up spending some time in jail.  But the sentence for one Bexar County man who killed his wife was 5 years probation and a $1,500 fine.  The case was deemed assisted suicide, and attorneys for the prosecution and defense agreed the punishment fits the crime.  

Thirty-four-year-old Daniel Hernandez shot and killed his wife, Jody Hernandez, in May of last year. She was 31. He then called 911, admitted what he had done, said Mrs. Hernandez had wanted to die and that it was an assisted suicide. He was charged with murder.

We had an individual who was sick, despondent, depressed, suicidal, and her husband helped her commit suicide. It's unfortunate he did it, but it may sound funny, but this was absolutely done out of love. ~Tylden Shaeffer

Tylden Shaeffer was Hernandez’s lead attorney. He worked with District Attorney Nico LaHood to change the charge to assisted suicide. Aside from the probation and fine, Hernandez received no jail time.

"I thought this was fair, because initially we’re talking about someone who was charged with murder," Shaeffer says. "And on the statutes we have this thing called assisted suicide which is really what it is. We had an individual who was sick, despondent, depressed, suicidal, and her husband helped her commit suicide. It’s unfortunate he did it, but it may sound funny, but this was absolutely done out of love."

Shaeffer says Mrs. Hernandez had Crohn’s Disease which is not a terminal disease. Shaeffer says for some people the symptoms can be manageable, and they can lead a relatively normal life. But he says Mrs. Hernandez was in terrible physical pain and had several suicide attempts leading up to her death. He also says that even in a state like Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, this shooting would have been against the law, because Mrs. Hernandez was not terminally ill.

LaHood says he was the one who suggested the plea bargain and fine.

"I believe what we offered him and what the defendant ended up agreeing to plea to was a just result. Obviously, when someone thinks, ‘Oh, someone’s charged with murder, it sounds egregious, it sounds bad,’ and that charge in and of itself brings a certain stigma with it. We looked at a history of ailments. She was very, very sick. She was in tremendous pain. There was a lot of documentation of her really not wanting to live. Her family knew about it. As a matter of fact, her family didn’t want the defendant punished at all," LaHood says.

But he says he couldn’t in good conscience say Mr. Hernandez wasn’t responsible for anything. LaHood says he didn’t want to send a message that people could assist others in taking their own lives. But he says the punishment couldn’t be too extreme. And LaHood respects Mr. Hernandez’s military service.   

"Here’s a man who honorably served our country, has no criminal history. I did not feel that this case showed that this man had the mental intent to commit a murder, a depraved heart murder—that’s not what we’re dealing with here," LaHood says.

Gerald Reamey is a professor of law at St. Mary’s University.

"Aiding suicide itself is a state jail felony," Reamey says. "State jail felonies carry a maximum of two years in prison as a sentence and the possibility of a fine. But if a deadly weapon is used, then it becomes a third degree felony, and then it’s possible to have up to ten years of jail time."

But Hernandez got no jail time -- just probation. Reamey says it’s difficult to know if this sentence is the norm because assisted suicide cases in the state of Texas are very rare, there is not much precedent. He says most cases where the defendants claim assisted suicide turn out to be murder cases.

LaHood says this is his first assisted suicide case in his 14-year career.

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.