Did a frail mother really want her daughter dead?
The case was as complicated as it was tragic – a daughter, totally paralysed after being shot in the neck, begging to die.
Her frail, sick mother Shirley Egan, 68, charged with attempted murder for carrying out the shooting. And, if her daughter Georgette was granted the right to die, her mother could face a first-degree murder charge – and the death penalty if convicted.
This legal can of worms was opened on 18 March 1999, in Florida.
Georgette and boyfriend Larry Videlock had been caring for her ailing mum since a car crash left Shirley seriously injured in October 1997.
Shirley, a 6st, 4ft 11in pensioner with emphysema, was blind in one eye, dosed up on pain medication.
That day, Shirley heard Georgette and Larry talking of putting her in a nursing home.
So she’d grabbed a gun, fired at them.
She missed Larry but hit her daughter in the neck, tearing through her spinal cord.
Surgeons battled to save Georgette, but she was left paralysed from the neck down, dependent on a ventilator, unable to speak without effort, control her bladder or bowels, and fed through a tube.
She ran a high risk of pneumonia, infections, ulcers and bedsores.
Shirley was charged with two counts of attempted murder, and held in jail.
Two months on, Georgette decided she couldn’t cope with life as quadriplegic, and applied to the court to have the ventilator switched off – to end her life.
All I can do is wink my eyes and wiggle my nose, wiggle my tongue. I can’t move any other part. I cannot breathe on my own, Georgette said in court papers. God, don’t leave me this way. I should be able to make the choice, she said.
Georgette’s daughters Candace, 22, and Joeleen, 19, agreed.
‘She just wants to be at peace,’ Joeleen said.
But Georgette’s case didn’t just raise ethical ‘right to die’ questions. Should her wishes be granted, it could mean a murder charge for her mother.
Shirley’s lawyer objected to the request for this reason, but Shirley herself backed her daughter’s choice.
‘Ms Egan does not want to see her daughter suffer,’ her lawyer told the judge.
The hospital had no objection, it simply wanted a court order.
After meeting Georgette and reviewing her medical history, the judge ruled she was competent to make the decision.
The next day, in May 1999, Georgette Smith passed away in accordance with her wishes.
After, prosecutors considered the murder charge. According to police reports, Georgette had been shot after she’d gone to get papers about moving her mother to a care home.
The sound of gunshots had startled Larry Videlock. Rushing out, he saw Shirley standing in her bedroom doorway with a revolver.
She’d fired at him, before he disarmed her and called for help.
In the end, due to her ailing health, and her relationship to Georgette, prosecutors decided not to pursue the murder charge.
Instead, in July 1999, Shirley Egan went on trial for two counts of attempted murder.
The prosecutor produced statements Shirley had made to detectives, admitting being angry with Georgette and Larry after hearing them talk of putting her in a nursing home.
Giving evidence, Larry Videlock said he and Georgette treated Shirley well. He admitted that, two weeks before the shooting, social services had a complaint that Shirley was being abused, neglected. A social worker had visited, left information on nursing homes and home help.
Videlock said Shirley could be verbally abusive, that Georgette was always tired from taking care of her and working part-time.
Then Georgette gave evidence – from beyond the grave. Hours before her death, she’d taped an emotional video statement from her hospital bed.
During the 20-minute video, Shirley watched in horror, hand clasped over her mouth.
But Georgette Smith was loyal to her mother.
‘I’m sure it was accidental. I know it was. She can’t see that good. I love her dearly.
She is the best friend,’ she said.
Shirley’s lawyer maintained it’d all been a terrible accident.
He called a paramedic who’d treated Shirley after the shooting.
She said the elderly woman claimed she’d got the gun just to scare her daughter and her boyfriend.
‘She said she was tired of them harassing her and telling her they were going to put her in a nursing home. She said she meant to shoot it over her head,’ the paramedic said.
The defence added that Shirley was ‘angry, crazy and irrational’ from taking anti-depressants, and other medication to relieve pain from the 1997 accident.
‘Shirley Egan was not responsible for her actions. She was incapable of doing this intentionally,’ he said.
So had an ailing mother tried to murder her daughter in cold blood? Or had it all simply been a terrible, tragic accident?
The jury acquitted Shirley Egan of all charges. She smiled and squeezed her attorney’s hand after hearing thecourt’s verdict.
‘She’s [Georgette] up there with God, I pray to her in God’s hands,’ Shirley said. ‘She was my best friend, we were together our whole lives.’
Yet, as Shirley was released, she faced an uncertain future, in poor health, homeless and now without her main caregiver – her daughter Georgette.