The Justice Files: Imprisoned elderly man claims it was assisted suicide not murder

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 SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – There is forgiveness amongst the Chamberlain family but then again, there isn’t.

The division centers on Dennis Chamberlain who in 2015 was sent to prison for the attempted murder of his wife Jean

Recently the Utah Department of Corrections requested a “compassionate release” due to his age and health.  The request must be approved by the Board of Pardons and Parole.

The 80-year old Chamberlain appeared before a hearing officer who represents the board. He personally is allowed to make a case for his release.

“I’d like to be paroled,” said Chamberlain.  “I would clearly like to be paroled.”

In 2014, he was arrested for the murder of his wife, Jean. He eventually accepted a plea bargain and the charge was reduced to attempted murder. He was sentenced to a minimum of three years and up to life in prison.

Before the hearing officer, Chamberlain continued to maintain it was an assisted suicide, not murder. But an assisted suicide is still against the law in Utah.

“We decided the two of us together to help her pass on to the next life,” he said.  “And so what I did is I put a plastic bag on her head … and she didn’t survive very long after that. ” 

During the 2015 defense of his actions, Chamberlain claimed the two of them were followers of the Hemlock Society.  The organization believes it is one’s right to choose when they died. He said he met with members of the group who told him that helping his wife die was an option.

“It wasn’t just my decision,” he said. ” It was mine and my wife Jean’s decision and we went along with the people that were part of that organization.”

Also present at Chamberlain’s hearing were his daughter and Jean’s sister.  The hearing held via a video conference link. Both opposed his release.

“He was not a grieving widower but a calculated killer who planned the execution of our beloved sister and then covered it up,” said Janis Farran, Jean’s sister.  “In the face of the evidence of his actions Dennis still denies that he killed her. He has shown no remorse whatsoever.”

Farran said Chamberlain controlled her sister and refused to allow anyone from talking or seeing her at their home in Roy. She said he would tape her to the wheelchair and leave her for hours at a time.

“He’d tape her to a chair and leave her,” Farran said. “And (he’d) be upset and punish her if she soiled herself.”

One of Chamberlain’s daughters said her father holds grudges and that terrifies her should he be released.

“In my father’s mind he hasn’t done anything wrong so until he makes an effort to acknowledge his actions for what they truly were or try to change his mindset or make amends, I do not believe he should be released,” said Sonya Balling.

His possible released has put family members, including his own daughters at polar opposites.  Laurie Grotepas attended the hearing in person and cautiously offered support for his release.

“I am in a very unique and very undesirable situation as I fell victim to Dennis’ actions in losing an incredible mother who I love dearly,” Grotepas said. “But I also love my father and want to advocate for his well being also.”

Chamberlain said he hasn’t sought therapy because he claimed the medical experts didn’t see a need. He said alcohol was a problem back in 2014 and promised never to take a drink again. Chamberlain said his one regret was not placing his wife into a nursing home. 

He told the hearing officer that he’s ready to come home.

“I have done my time,” he said. “I have gone beyond the call of duty in being a good inmate.”

But in the end, Chamberlain never apologized for what he did. Perhaps it played a role in the board of pardons final ruling. Chamberlain will not be receiving a “compassionate release.”  The board of pardons, without comment, denied the request.

Marcos Ortiz
Emmy award winning journalist and producer, reporter of the Justice Files seen nightly on ABC4, begining his career in Blythe California with stops in Green River and Cheyenne Wyoming. He was hired to be KGGM’S political reporter in Santa Fe, New Mexico before arriving in Salt Lake City in 1992 as a general assignments reporter before moving into the crime beat.
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