Posted on Thu, Jun. 27, 2002
BY AMY SHERMAN
Saying the ill victim instigated her own murder by asking her husband to kill her, a judge on Wednesday sentenced Larry Draper to about 18 years in prison — seven years less than what state guidelines recommend.
Draper, 44, will be eligible for supervised release in 12 years.
Nancy Draper's body was found in the freezer of their Inver Grove Heights home in 2001. Three weeks after her death, Larry Draper turned himself in to police with the help of a lawyer. After he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in April, the only question that remained was whether he killed his 54-year-old wife out of mercy or malice.
During a six-day sentencing hearing earlier this month, Draper testified that he gave in to his wife's repeated begging to end her suffering from multiple sclerosis. The prosecutor argued that Larry Draper cruelly strangled his wife with a belt after he grew tired of caring for her.
The sentencing order written by Dakota County District Judge Thomas Murphy showed that he believed Larry Draper. "He knew it was wrong and he knew he would have to pay the consequences," Murphy wrote. "But he believed that he was doing this for her, it was what she wanted."
Murphy also wrote that he gave the lesser sentence because Larry Draper had no criminal history, is not a threat to others and expert testimony revealed that he was depressed at the time he killed his wife.
Although prosecutor Scott Hersey had pointed to Larry Draper's extramarital affairs as evidence that the murder was in his own interest, Murphy agreed with a probation officer's report that the affairs, committed out of loneliness, were extraneous to Nancy's death.
The fact that Larry Draper received a sentence less than what state guideless recommend is unusual. Since 1997, there have been 40 such second-degree intentional murder cases in which the offenders had no criminal history. Six offenders, or 15 percent, received a downward departure, according to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
Nancy Draper's out-of-town relatives were furious and perplexed when they heard about the sentence over the telephone.
"We are devastated that justice was not done," said Lois Haley, Nancy's sister. "Where is the mercy in any of this? I don't understand."
Nancy Draper's family said they never heard her say she wanted to die. If she had planned to die, she would have told her family and chosen a more humane method than strangulation, her relatives said.
"You don't even have to have a medical school background to know you don't want to die brutally with a leather belt around your neck," said Karen Umi, Nancy's cousin.
Although Larry's relatives and the couples' friends testified to hearing Nancy repeatedly say she wanted to die, Hersey had said no notes or recording were left by Nancy to indicate such a wish.
Hersey had sought a 40-year prison term. County Attorney James Backstrom said he hadn't decided yet whether to appeal the sentence.
"We believed the facts showed this was a crime of violence, committed with particular cruelty against the most vulnerable of victims, which warranted a lengthy prison sentence," Backstrom said.
Defense Attorney Joe Friedberg said the sentence was fair. After the sentencing, Carolyn Dulas said of her brother Larry: "He loved her. He still loves her."
They fell in love when Nancy became Larry's nurse after he was seriously burned in a construction accident in 1985 that resulted in him losing his right hand and fingers on his left hand.
Their roles would reverse when Nancy Draper was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis around 1993. Her condition deteriorated to the point where she could no longer walk or feed herself. Larry Draper's only break from caring for his wife around the clock was when a home health care worker assisted four hours a week.
"Being a caregiver for a chronically ill person is an immensely heavy burden to bear," said Professor Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics. "If you are involved in the difficult act of caring for a profoundly disabled person, seek professional help."
Members of Nancy Draper's family say they would have helped — if Larry had asked. Now that the case is over, they hope to obtain her personal effects to remember her by. For now, they only have memories.
"Nancy had a sense of humor out of this world," her sister said. "Nancy was a very loving, giving person. She had a heart of gold."
"Nancy Draper was not an aggressor in the normal sense of the word. However, the court is completely convinced that she wanted to die and she did not want to continue to live the way she was living. She continued to encourage the defendant to end her life and relieve her suffering. That does not make her an aggressor in the normal sense of the word, but it does indicate that she helped to instigate the act, as it was her idea from the beginning."
— Judge Thomas Murphy, explaining why he gave a sentence to Larry Draper
that was lower than the guidelines
Copyright (c), 2002, Pioneer Press