One question has troubled John Edward Wise’s attorney from the moment he decided to defend the man’s case in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
Wise, now 68 and in a wheelchair, is facing an aggravated murder charge for the shooting death of his ill wife — the love of his life — at Akron General Medical Center in August 2012.
County prosecutors even told the jury in Monday’s opening statements that John and Barbara Wise, 65, enjoyed a “storybook” relationship for all of their 46 years together.
His attorney, Paul Adamson, told jurors Monday that the question that stumped him was: “Who in their right mind would do this in a hospital, to the person that he loved? The answer to that is: ‘He wasn’t.’ ”
Those were the last words the jury heard Monday afternoon before prosecutors began presenting the first pieces of evidence in what authorities initially described as a “mercy killing.”
John Wise, who has heart disease, severe diabetes, a degenerative disc in his back and bladder cancer, Adamson said, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He also is facing one count of murder, one count of felonious assault and gun specifications attached to all three charges.
In short, plain-talking opening statements, the jury heard attorneys for each side say there are not many essential facts in dispute.
On July 28, 2012, Barbara Wise suffered a cerebral aneurysm at the couple’s home in Massillon.
John Wise, a retiree with 35 years of service at Republic Steel, had taken a nap in the afternoon, then “awoke to a nightmare,” Adamson said, when he found his wife in severe distress. She was taken first to a local hospital, but when doctors there determined that a special procedure was needed to relieve blood clotting in the brain, she was flown by helicopter that night to Akron General.
Wise was with his wife every day, most of the time with his son, until the turning point came Aug. 4.
In a bedside visit on the third floor of the neurological intensive care unit, “he saw a tear run down her cheek, and he snapped,” Adamson said.
Wise went back home with his son, put a 9 mm handgun in his duffel bag, took a cab alone back to Akron General, entered his wife’s room and shot her in the left temple. His only true intent, Adamson assured the jury, was to “honor her wishes about not being in a vegetative state.”
Wise’s severe physical problems, coupled with schizophrenia, extreme depression and nervousness over his wife’s condition created “the perfect storm” — to such an extent that he did not know his actions were wrong, Adamson said to jurors.
Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi acknowledged to the jury, in the first minute of his remarks, that most of the evidence “is uncontested.” The dividing line in the case, he said, is what Ohio law demands in an insanity plea.
Wise must show he was suffering from a “severe mental defect” at the time of the shooting and did not know the wrongfulness of his actions, LoPrinzi said.
Prosecutors will prove otherwise, he said.
Although both sides will call psychological experts to testify about Wise’s mental state at the time of his wife’s death, LoPrinzi said that what John Wise did before that was most convincing of guilt, under the law.
He said that at no time did Akron General doctors tell Wise that his wife was going to die. In fact, her attending medical records showed she would have “a long recovery, but a recovery,” LoPrinzi said, his voice rising as he spoke.
And Wise never inquired about possible recovery, he emphasized.
“He never talked about hospice, he never talked about pain management, he never talked about end-of-life care. Never even asked about that,” LoPrinzi told jurors.
What Wise did do was to return home, put his pistol and the couple’s living wills in his bag and shoot his wife soon after getting wheeled into her room, LoPrinzi said.
Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands is handling the case. It is expected to last at least until the end of the week.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.