The Justice Files: In defense of an assisted suicide

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) –  Dennis Chamberlain is 80-years old and a prison inmate.

Now the Utah Department of Corrections is seeking a “compassionate” release due to his health and age.

In 2014, he was arrested and eventually convicted of attempted murder in the death of his wife.  Chamberlain was originally charged with first-degree murder but in a plea deal agreed to attempted murder. 

He was sentenced to a three-years-to-life sentence. But after serving five years, Chamberlain is on the verge of freedom.  

In 2014, Roy police responded to an emergency call at the Chamberlain home. They found Jean Chamberlain dead. She was known to have health problems.

“For the last couple of years her health’s been failing and she had a stroke,” said a neighbor Kristie Keller back in 2014. 

She was buried but no autopsy was performed. But police re-opened the case after hearing her husband may have caused her death.

“He’d make abusive remarks towards his wife,” another neighbor said.

Another neighbor told ABC4 at the time that Chamberlain had grown weary of changing her colonoscopy bags. 

“He said **** the bags,” the neighbor told ABC4.

Police executed a search warrant shortly after her death and found items of interest on Chamberlain’s computer.

They discovered links describing “methods to commit suicide,” and learning how to get “doctors to sign death certificates.”  

The warrant described how Chamberlain purchased an oxygen mask, a plastic hoodie (used to suffocate her), and a book titled “The Peaceful Pill Handbook.”

Prosecutors in Weber County claimed the materials were used to help Chamberlain murder his wife. He was then charged with first-degree murder.

During his sentencing, the prosecutor said Chamberlain used a plastic turkey roasting bag over Jean Chamberlain’s head and filled it with helium using a plastic tube.

His defense attorney claimed that Chamberlain was cooperating with his wife in an assisted suicide.  He claimed they both belonged to the Hemlock Society which championed the right to die and assist in suicides.

Chamberlain eventually pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sent to prison in 2015.

But after serving five-years, the Department of Corrections applied for a so-called “compassionate release,” due to his age and health. He’s now 80-years old and recently appeared before the Board of Pardons which must approve the request for early release.

“She was falling down a lot,” said Chamberlain when he spoke to the hearing officer. “If I had to do it differently I probably would have put her in a nursing home for more on-going care.”

  Also in attendance were family members and others joined by a video-link connection provided by the corrections department.  

Thursday, as this story continues, Chamberlain will explain why he did what he did. But his possible release from prison has also caused friction amongst his own family including Chamberlain’s own daughters.

If you or someone you know needs help, there’s the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For more information, visit utahsuicideprevention.org.
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