Kentucky Man Charged With Murder For Failing To Stop His Mother From Committing Suicide

There is a novel criminal charge in Kentucky where Jeffrey Wisecup, 27, is accused of watching his mother commit suicide and not acting to prevent it.  It is a charge based on a theory of an affirmative duty to act to save someone — a premise long rejected in the United States where  the “no duty to rescue” rule has been a long-standing part of torts.

According to news station WKYT, Wisecup saw his mother swallow pills and inject herself with insulin in an apparent suicide.   After she had a seizure, he dragged his mother to her bedroom and next day found her dead. He then lived with the body for five days during which time he went to work and repeatedly went to the liquor store.

Court papers state that Wisecup “admitted that he should have called emergency services and that she may still be alive today if he had.”  Police allege that his “wanton conduct” of not calling emergency medical services when his mother began her suicide attempt created a “grave risk of death” to his mother.

However, the grave risk of death was the decision of his mother to end her life.  He is not charged with encouraging her or even helping her.  He is simply charged with failing to intervene or rescue.  That would suggest that others could be charged for failing to act as opposed to affirmative acts.  Would the same rule apply to a non-relative?

Wisecup is clearly a deeply troubled person to live with his dead mother for five days. However, the implications of this charge are quite significant and the case could prove an important cause for appeal if these charges are allowed to stand.

 

Kudos: Professor Roger E. Schechter

84 thoughts on “Kentucky Man Charged With Murder For Failing To Stop His Mother From Committing Suicide”

  1. Another interesting angle is that in Kentucky it is legal to bury your relatives in your yard. The Sheriff must be notified of the death, but once he has completed the paperwork, you can bury Granny outside, next to the family cat. I lived in KY for two years and it was interesting to see family burial plots, usually in the side yard. So I’m not so sure about the “mishandling of a corpse,” unless the law required him to either bury her outside or have her body removed within a proscribed time period.

  2. “Wisecup is clearly a deeply troubled person to live with his dead mother for five days.”

    Hmmm. He was probably just enjoying the peace and quiet. Just think, no nagging for a whole five days. No having to watch reruns of Murder She Wrote, and The Price is Right.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeeky. Please don’t take Jessica Fletcher’s name in vain😊 She is sacred in our family😄 LOL
      Not really but we do love her………mainly because Angela favors my mother and MSW was my mother’s favorite show til the day she died.
      But I see why some people grow tired of the formula used to make the show….and the bad acting…..But now Price is Right?. I am with you on that!

      1. The acting wasn’t all that bad. The problem was the plot cheats (not all the clues were on the table) and sociological nonsense so severe it compromised your capacity to suspend disbelief. Here you have a town of 3,000 in Maine with as many homicides in a year as a metropolitan commuter belt with 200,000 people in it (at that time; nowadays a city would have to be twice as large to have that many killings). Sheriff Tucker could have relocated to El Salvador and had less work. An amused critic offered you could interpret the plots as imaginative sequences dreamed up by Jessica at her typewriter’ (bar that the distinction between the setting and the setting-within-the-setting is never depicted explicitly, as it eventually was with the medical drama St. Elsewhere).

        1. Taborrok………..also the unbelievable storylines that had Cabot Cove individuals not recognize Jessica and not know who she was even though she was a famous author who rode her bike around town..pop. 3,000?! LOL
          My favorite episode is the one where she is bedridden and hurricane is coming. Except for the sun shining off and on during the intense storm, it was welldone. Singer Giselle MacKenzie played a waitress!

            1. Oh Yes! But it took me a long time to adapt to it, as I was so addicted to David Suchet’s Poirot and Jane Hicks’ Miss Marple…..those PBS productions were so perfect, IMO .. Midsummer was/is a slight bit “campy” but I had to adapt…and now I enjoy them, though they show more violence. I like the subtleties of Agatha Christie……Much more powerful when you can’t see everything but it’s there.
              But you’re right…..the Midsommer is Murder capital and the population is so small….LOL

              1. Typical English county has about 400,000 residents outside it’s urban-metropolitan portions. The thing is, the homicide rate being what it is in Britain, such a county sees maybe 4 homicides a year, if that. Someone I correspond with once met a real live Oxfordshire detective who explained that his county had a a single-digit set of homicides in a typical year and that they consisted mostly of bar fights gone wrong. Can’t squeeze much detective fiction out of drunken brawls between Trevor and Nigel.

              2. Cindy Bragg – one of the DVDs has a map you can print out of the Midsomer area. 😉 If you have one murder, you are going to have three more. And they have gone 24 seasons.

            2. Midsomer has two or three homicides per episode, so about 1/2 of their perpetrators are classifiable as serial killers. Over the last 70 years (which will cover the lifetime of the fictional inspector Barnaby), about two-dozen serial killers have been identified in Britain. I think a couple of them might have been small town bourgeois of the sort doing all the killing in Midsomer County. A couple

              The plots are more engaging and they put the clues on the table. The thing is, they’re sufficiently formulaic you can commonly spot the perp in spite of their best efforts at generating situational irony.

              Other amusing feature: took ’em ten years to get Cully off their books, a feat accomplished only because she got married; and, of course, no explicit discussion of the financial haemorrhage not stanched until she was 31 years old (just sulking by her whenever her father missed a theatre production she’d been cast in). Interesting how Joyce Barnaby seems never to have had wage work, even though she only had one kid, a kid who, in the fictional timeline, would have reached secondary school around a decade before the events of the first episode.

              1. DSS – please, you are being way too harsh on the show. Just because they bring back dead people as new characters, you shouldn’t let that bother you. And Cully didn’t live at home most of the time, she was just there to make sure her father got a decent meal once in awhile.

                1. Her father always got meticulously prepared meals. His complaint about his wife’s cooking was that she was inventive and varied and he wanted proper British slop. You know, roast beef cooked to death so it’s strings you separate with a fork and flavor with some yellow-pink mystery sauce. An bangers and mash. And steak and kidney pie.

              2. Tabor…….one big difference for me in comparing Midsommer to Poirot or Marple……..I like the MS characters, but I Don’t feel anything for them……they have not been endearing to me as Poirot and Jane …..BUT I still like the show because it’s fun. (one exception is Jones, the Welsh sidekick……I do really like that character)

  3. It is right and proper to establish a DNR — Do Not Resuscitate. It seems to me that an attempted suicide by a mentally competent adult implies a DNR order. Oh, sure, there are some who believe that attempted suicide is always indicative of mental illness; I’m not so sure.

    Yes, a life could have been saved. The life of a person who did not want that life to go on. Shouldn’t the wishes of the person whose life is on the line have first say?

    1. Jerry……I can’t watch this…even if it’s funny I’ll have nightmares. When the original film was released, l didn’t go see it….but just hearing about it spooked me so badly that I was too scared to take showers…..had to take baths only for a couple of years! LOL

      1. Cindy, you’d love “Motel Hell”, starring Rory Calhoun.
        If you saw that, you’d never check into a motel again.😧

        1. Tom…. Rory Calhoun made a scary movie? Gosh I don’t remember that! He was such a handsome man….Thanks for the tip!
          I saw Rear Window in the theater in a little town in Oklahoma.when I was 8 yrs old. For years I told everybody I met that was the scariest movie ever made!. In the 1990’s it came to a cinema in Austin and I told a young UT film student about it…and being the scariest! He went to see it and nearly laughed all the way through because it was so mild! I never lived that down.

          1. Cindy Bragg – I am a devoted follower of RedLetterMedia and the other day I was watching one of their Best of the Worst videos when they did a film with Rory Calhoun in in. Rory did not look like he wanted to be in it. Think it also had Janet Leigh, DeForrest Kelley and Stuart Whitman. It is the infamous Night of the Lepus (1972).

            1. Paul….oh I remember that…about giant rabbits! Didn’t realize that was Rory! I met Janet Leigh in Baltimore at a Bob Hope Telethon in 19726th and she asked me to please sit with her girls during the show and not let them act up…They were giggly little girls about 11 and 13 yrs old….never realized one would grow up to be the Scream Queen Jamie! But Janet L wore aqua blue chiffon evening gowns the entire weekend!! I really didn’t care for her….very bossy.

              1. Cindy Bragg – I have noticed a lot of people can be bossy. That does not make them bad people. 😉

                Yes, it is the giant bunny movie. 🙂

                    1. Cindy Bragg – check them out, they will give you thousands of hours of viewing pleasure. 😉

                  1. Cindy Bragg – redlettermedia.com took down George Lucas and forced him to sell to Disney. They did a 7 part 70 minute review of The Phantom Menace that destroyed George Lucas as a film maker. It has had over 1 million views. 😉

                    1. Paul wow. I must have been out of town……I have no memory of that! But you have quite the memory for interesting memorobilia!

                    2. Cindy Bragg – The Phantom Menace review and the next 2 Star Wars reviews are devastating. I think some film schools are using them to show how to deconstruct a movie. And, it is funny as hell. Plus, there is an underlying plot involving the reviewer, Mr. Plinkett and pizza rolls. The guys have moved on to reviewing big action films (including the new Star Wars) in Half in the Bag and the infamous Best of the Worst, where they watch three bad movies and select the best of the three and then destroy the worst of the three. They also have The Wheel of the Worst which is non-commercial films that they watch, i.e., How Do I Know If I am Really In Love (starring Jason and Justine Bateman and Ted Danson) and select the best and worst. In Best of the Worst they film themselves watching the films which is inter-cut with the discussions.

                      They are extremely knowledgeable about film and have made films themselves, including Space Cop.

                      Then once a year they do a wrap up where they mention all the really good regular films they have seen and you should see.

                    3. Paul C. Sounds fun….but I do pride myself as being one of the few in America who has never seen a Star Wars movie!

                    4. Star Wars IV, V, and VI are excellent. I saw IV the day it came out in a Cinerama house on an 85 mm screen. Huge sound system. It was mind blowing. They changed movie making.

                    5. Paul…..Star Wars does sound like great viewing…Our daughter loves the SW movies…..but give me a quiet English village with a murder a day and I’m happy …………..also happy with some Doris Day movies!
                      Sipping espresso and munching Godiva chocolates while watching Pillow Talk for the 1,000th time is my idea of heaven….LOL

                    6. Paul…LOL….I like their chemistry….and of course in 1959 not many knew he was not straight. But I also liked her movie with James Garner……The Thrill of it All……it has a terrific script and great cast.
                      When I first saw Pillow Talk as a young teen, I fell in love with that apartment of hers, overlooking NYC….I thought that would be so exciting to live like that.
                      But, the BEST apartment in a film IMO… is in Sunday in New York. Jane Fonda’s brother’s studio apt is incredible. I will watch that movie just to fantasize about living in that apt..LOL do I need therapy?! 😎

  4. Charged may mean investigated. Was there an insurance policy? What was the nature of their relationship? It doesn’t look like he planned anything or he would have simply let her die in bed and call it in. Living with the body and ‘telling all’ seems to point to mental instability, either momentary or ?

  5. The courts have repeatedly ruled that the cops have no affirmative requirement to assist us in an emergency.

    Can’t have it both ways (especially since cops are public servants and are paid to assist the public).

  6. Her husband died in February 2016, at the age of 53. She was employed as a cashier at a dollar store. She’d had better jobs than that, but not terribly recently (about 10 years ago). She was diabetic. I’m wagering she was overweight and in danger of losing digits or the use of them, perhaps in pain. Her son one might wager is not…uh…neurotypical (he’s certainly laboring under the illusion that bad facial hair counterbalances a receding hairline). Would wager she had unpaid bills and credit card balances. There’s an older son, one Kevin Wisecup, age 29. He’s moved around some in recent years, was at one time employed in some capacity by Wells Fargo in Des Moines. Kevin Wisecup has facial hair like his younger brother, and is partial to tats.

    One little tidbit about her: she had a Goodreads profile. This was one of her selections:

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25441238-free-your-mind

      1. All of her selections:

        https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/41208724-sheila-wisecup?shelf=currently-reading

        How To Memorize The Bible Fast And Easy

        Alcoholism: Alcohol Abuse Treatment – How to Overcome Alcoholism and Get Rid of Your Drinking Problem for Life (Alcoholism Recovery – Alcoholism free memoir … – Alcohol Addiction – Alcohol Abuse Book 1)

        Fifty Shades Trilogy Bundle

        And then there are the books that she wanted to read:

        https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/41208724-sheila-wisecup?shelf=to-read

        (There is, of course, much more to this unhappy story.)

    1. Taborrok. “Sons and mother’s. It’ll never work.”

      To wit: “East of Eden”……..
      That’s so hard to watch.

  7. I just got a call from a friend this evening who was attempting suicide. After not be able to convince her to not do it and her hanging up on me I contacted the sheriff’s dept. who tracked her down and talked her down. She is fine now. Under this decision, if I had just let her hang up and not done anything affirmative, I could have been charged with murder or attempted murder. Folks, this is insane.

    However, living with the body for 5 days is a little freaky. Just saying.

    1. Paul…….oh I’m so sorry your friend was that unhappy. But what a friend you are! Without ever meeting you, I know you are a person of strength who is able to give strength to others. A true friend indeed!
      Thank you for sharing that story…..and blessings on your friend.

      1. Cindy Bragg – it was pretty much a perfect storm of problems that hit her. She had big underlying problems and then the one that hit her in the last few days overwhelmed her. She seemed fine when I last talked to her last night. I was trying to convince her to watch comedy shows, but she wanted to watch Numb3rs, which is good, but hardly comedic. 😉

        Luckily, the two sheriffs deputies knew her because she had stopped one time to compliment them on doing a great job, so they recognized her name and took the call. So, they could repay the favor. I did have to explain to them she was armed but she would not shot them although she might be hostile. 😉 I didn’t want a suicide by officer situation.

        Thank you for the kind words.

  8. He is obviously very troubled. Or did he keep her body there to look like he was crazy? Either way, it’s. a very disturbing story.

  9. I remembered our state statute for first degree murder. RCW 9A.32.030

    RCW 9A.32.030

    Murder in the first degree.

    (1) A person is guilty of murder in the first degree when:

    (b) Under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life, he or she engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to any person, and thereby causes the death of a person;

    In WA I could see these alleged actions more easily fit the elements of that statute since the conduct alleged in my opinion would constitute “extreme indifference to human life”.

    1. Darren,
      There is some irony in the WA. statute that you cite, given that Washington was one of the earlier pioneers of legalizing assisted suicide.
      There’s not a lot of detail in the article, but if the mother had gone through the process and determined to be a candidate for assisted suicide, those ‘actively participating” in that process would not be legally liable.
      By passively standing by as his mother did herself in, it looks like this guy could be charged under WA. State law.
      Assuming that the mother was determined to kill herself, and especially if those wishes were known to others, I’d be reluctant to charge the son with letting her go through with it.
      Technically, both the mother and the son may have violated the WA. state law by not adhering to the requirements of state-assisted or state-condoned suicide.
      But it still would seem ironic to me that he could, or would, be prosecuted in a state where “assisted” suicide is legal.
      Charges involving the failure to timely report a death outside of a medical facility, or the “mistreatment of a corpse” might seem warranted, depending on statutes that may apply in those areas.

      1. WA has a promoting a suicide statute:

        RCW 9A.36.060
        Promoting a suicide attempt.
        (1) A person is guilty of promoting a suicide attempt when he or she knowingly causes or aids another person to attempt suicide.
        (2) Promoting a suicide attempt is a class C felony.

        The issue with this one is that if the son did nothing to aid her in the suicide attempt the elements for that crime cannot be met. But I suspect the Murder in the 1st could.

        WA’s Death with dignity statutes Chapter 70.45 RCW contains the physician assisted suicide requirements. An ordinary suicide does not qualify.

        I looked at the possibility that this might be considered a “Failure to summon assistance” RCW 9A.36.160 but strangely we could be in a cart & horse situation with the timing. In another sense the deceased died at her own hand. While the son did allegedly nothing he did not aid in her suicide which would have been a crime. She was not physically assaulted for the purpose of the Failure to summon Assistance law, so the strangeness of this situation is that a murder 1st is probably the “cleanest” charge for the purpose of satisfying the elements of the offense.

        It’s a strange case if it were to happen here.

          1. I’d have to see more of the case to be frank. I find myself changing my mind often on whether he would be guilty or not. Chargeable? Certainly but guilt? unsure presently.

            1. Darren Smith – I could certainly see a 72 hour psych hold, but I am really iffy on charging him. It is like they are trying to score points with somebody.

        1. Darren,..
          – Do you think that prosecutors in, say, King County for example, would actually try charging the son with 1st degree murder if this had happened in Seattle?

          1. Tom,

            That is a good question. I don’t know which way King County will go on that one but politics will be involved probably as much as legal considerations. The degree of the influence the political side will depend on how much news coverage it would receive. Most other counties I feel will look at it from whether they believe this or any other offense is chargeable and the likelihood of a guilty verdict. On an issue such as this there will likely be a great many different interpretations of applicability.

            For me I tend toward the belief of either you have probable cause or you don’t, affirmative defense or not, and then filter it through what is fair and reasonable in deciding to ultimately charge something. In our example here I believe the requisite element of Murder 1st by “extreme indifference” qualifies for the charge. There is no affirmative defense available to the accused because he was not a licensed physician acting under the purview of the death with dignity act. Was his omission fair or reasonable? It’s a corner case for sure. Ultimately it is up to a jury to decide if the defendant would have acted with “extreme indifference to human life” and if the state could not prove that element than he should be acquitted.

            1. Thanks, Darren.
              Changing gears here to another aspect of WA. State law: –I see the suicidal person about to jump off of a bridge.
              Turns out that I know this person and really, really dislike the person.
              So is there a “justifiable” indifference to
              human life exception to the “extreme indifference to human life” offense if I fail to intervene or “summon assistance”?😉😂

              1. Tom Nash – would the law have to list justifiable circumstances to allow you to ignore the situation? Now, we know a cop can ignore the situation, so why can’t a civilian?

                1. PC Schulte,..
                  – I’m not familiar enough with the court decisions and statutes in this field to know the answer.
                  It’d be interesting to see how many times the “fine points” of
                  laws in this area actually play out in the legal system.
                  I was actually joking (mostly) about ignoring the guy on the bridge about to jump.
                  I know that the 4 central characters in the Seinfeld cast ended up in prison for their ” failure to summon assistance” in the series finale.

        1. PC Schulte,..
          I don’t know what laws might….”might”…govern this, but there may be a legal requirement to make final arrangements for/ disposal of the body.
          Within a reasonable time frame.
          By letting it sit and probably decompose badly for 5 days, I was wondering if he could be charged with negligence by not properly (and promptly) arranging for the body to be disposed.
          I wasn’t thinking that he mutilated or in some way violated the corpse; just that
          passively letting the body rot away might be a crime in some jurisdictions.
          I know that deaths occuring outside of a health care facilty (hospital, nursing home, hospice facility) need to be reported promptly.
          Especially in the case of an unexpected death.
          I was in that kind of situation once, and the sheriff deputy, a really nice guy, was there right on the heels of the paramedics after they pronounced her dead.
          So the failure to promptly report her at-home death within a reasonable period of time might be another chargeable offense.
          Kudos for helping your suicidal friend ( unless Kitty Wampus correctly identified your friend)😉

            1. Well, OK Paul. I guess we won’t put you in ” the bleedin g heart liberal” category for that.
              But watch it! That kind of compassion is incompatible with conservative values, according the opinion of some the liberal experts here.
              So you’re on thin ice.😉

    2. wont work, long standing rule, get rid of it and it will create more problems than it fixes

      btw i thought generally all state murder 1 charges require some kind of malice aforethought. shows how much I know. LOL

  10. The situation is complicated by the fact that he didn’t just fail or refuse to assist her, but that he attempted to assist her in an unreasonably negligent manner. After she swallowed the pills and injected herself, he carried her to her room and put her to bed, perhaps thinking that she could “sleep it off.” He didn’t call 911 and he didn’t check on her until morning, at which time she was dead. It’s been a long time since I studied torts, but I think he may be in more jeopardy for helping in a grossly negligent manner, than not helping at all. Or perhaps not, since his “help” didn’t worsen her situation.

      1. Good point, Kevin. If the son already put himself on the hook by stating that she was alive when he carried her, he couldn’t make that claim.
        Otherwise, it looks like it could be a great defense.

  11. Kentucky’s murder and principles of criminal liability are certainly different from what I would have expected.

    http://lrc.ky.gov/STATUTES/chapter.aspx?id=39365

    and also of their murder statute…

    http://lrc.ky.gov/STATUTES/statute.aspx?id=19717

    I suspect this is going to be a difficult case to secure a murder conviction. I imagine it ultimately might be decided on a manslaughter based upon more of a “wanton” principle of criminal liability. I believe the prosecution is relying on assigning causation to the defendant and not the suicide patient. Yet this to me appears more of an omission than an action. Causation by omission is not an easy sell.

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