Love, Money, or Mercy

One thing is certain: Roy Hagen killed his wife with a single blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. After that, the story gets a whole lot murkier.

Hagen retained prominent local defense attorney Joe Friedberg. One obvious strategy--to argue the case as a mercy killing--was foiled by Roy's statements to police that he had never considered such a thing, and that Sheila would never want him to kill her because it would be a mortal sin that would damn him for eternity. Instead, Friedberg opted to try to prove that his client was insane when he killed his wife. Specifically, Friedberg's strategy was to argue a concept called "folie à deux"--literally, "folly of two"--which would hold that Hagen was delusional because he bought into his wife's delusion.

Within Sheila's voluminous medical record, Friedberg focused on a 1988 visit to the Mayo Clinic, where she claimed she was suffering from a mitral heart valve defect. After conducting a battery of tests, the specialists at Mayo concluded her symptoms were psychosomatic and diagnosed her as "hypochondriacal." The attorney also seized upon the fact that for decades Sheila had told doctors that military physicians had diagnosed her as suffering from fibromyalgia, even though there is no medically definitive way to arrive at such a diagnosis. Finally, Sheila was never treated for her hypochondria. Because Roy believed her pain was physical, he could never help her. "If the diagnosis at the Mayo Clinic was correct," Friedberg argued in court, "Roy and Sheila Hagen were fighting a battle they could not ever win."

Still, Friedberg says today, he figured his case was hopeless. From the start--in his police statement and in conversations with his attorney--Hagen had made it clear that he knew what he'd done was wrong and he felt he deserved to be punished. He was adamant that his wife had not been a hypochondriac. "We might have had a better defense if Roy was more flexible and less moral," Friedberg says today. "As it was, folie à deux is complex and difficult to prove under the best of circumstances. We could not have won this case."

Late in January, days before his trial was to begin, Roy Hagen pleaded guilty to the intentional second-degree murder of his wife Sheila. All that was left to be decided was the prison term. Under state sentencing guidelines, Hagen could have received up to 40 years. Sherburne County Attorney Walter Kaminsky agreed to reduce the sentence, but the prosecutor balked at Friedberg's request for 15 years, offering 17 1/2 years and then, when the defense demurred, requesting 20. A sentencing hearing--a process that amounted to a five-hour mini-trial, with witnesses called on both sides--was held before Judge Alan Pendleton on March 1. (All testimony quoted in this story was taken from hearing transcripts.) Says Friedberg: "I think it was good for Roy to be able to get up and tell his side of the story."

 

Roy Hagen made his way to the witness stand gingerly, with rounded shoulders and a wallet in danger of falling out of his back pocket. His hair was shorter than in the photo of him and Sheila that has adorned nearly every newspaper article about the shooting. But the first impression he presented was that of a kindly, unprepossessing gentleman--albeit one with a sad and grisly story to tell.

He talked about his long ordeal--the details of Sheila's decades of pain, the torturous final week, the fateful morning and what came after--with a measured calm that seemed studiously rehearsed. When Friedberg asked him if he'd planned to kill his wife, his voice finally cracked, between "No way, I would never" and "She was my soul mate." But the more visceral emotion in Hagen's voice came through not when he was expressing remorse, but in gratitude, when he said, "I would not have made it if it hadn't been for my church," and described how members of the congregation had come to his brother's house the night before to observe Ash Wednesday. He said that if he received a reduced sentence, he'd be able to do some good in the world on behalf of the church and the Legion upon his release.

When Kaminsky mentioned that some church members probably felt uncomfortable worshiping with him, Roy replied: "I'm sure that there are, as you would find in any cross-section of people, some people that can't forgive. I always thought a church was about forgiveness. I know God has forgiven me."

Earlier a psychiatrist for the prosecution had testified that Hagen was not insane at the time of the shooting. Dr. Karen Bruggemeyer asserted that in interviewing Hagen and evaluating independent personality tests, she determined that the defendant demonstrated narcissistic personality traits, that he was at once boastful and felt superior to others yet suffered from low self-esteem. In the military, he had told her, he could "do no wrong"; he had recounted his anguish at his descent from "leading a squadron" to "a lowly sales position." He was, she said, "very rageful but unwilling to acknowledge that, and I felt that caused a negative impact on his interaction with other people."

Still, Bruggemeyer agreed that a sentence reduction was appropriate: The trauma of the victim's lengthy illness and Hagen's history of significant depression--exacerbated by his own decision to stop taking medication in May--had created a "diminished capacity" in his reasoning at the time of the offense. (In states such as California and Wisconsin, a diagnosis of diminished capacity can be cause for an acquittal.)

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