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.

Friedberg countered with his own expert witness, psychiatrist Dennis Philander, who set up the folie à deux argument by describing Sheila's chronic pain as a shared problem that influenced Hagen's thinking and actions. It was Roy who set up the medical appointments, relayed Sheila's symptom complexes to doctors, fetched the prescriptions, and was constantly by her side when she suffered, Philander asserted. The two lived such a "sheltered and cocoon type of existence that he could not even muster energy to reach out and ask for help."

Under cross-examination from prosecutor Kaminsky, Philander acknowledged that folie à deux is legally defined as a "shared psychotic disorder," and that none of the medical professionals who'd seen the Hagens had previously diagnosed either as psychotic. But Philander maintained that Sheila "had become an absolute invalid, and I really believe it goes beyond the hypochondriacal when it reaches that degree of intensity and intrusiveness."

There were testimonials to Hagen's character and kindness from a couple of his longtime friends at the American Legion post, from his once-estranged brother DuWayne, and from members of his church. One parishioner submitted a homemade card and drawing from her nine-year-old daughter, pleading for leniency in the sentencing. Because both sides were arguing for a downward departure in the sentencing guidelines, more nettlesome viewpoints, such as Jane Kachenmeister's, were not aired. (Friedberg acknowledges that Hagen told him of Sheila's affair. While Hagen may well have believed the story, Friedberg thinks Sheila might have concocted it. Says Kaminsky, the prosecutor: "The problem with a lot of Kachenmeister's testimony, particularly the allegation that perhaps [Sheila] wanted a divorce, was that we could never substantiate it.")

After a brief recess, Judge Alan Pendleton announced that he had come to court prepared to give Hagen 20 years, as the prosecution had requested. But after hearing the testimony and considering the evidence, the judge continued, he had decided to split the difference between the defense and prosecution requests and remand Hagen to the medium-security prison in Faribault for 17 and a half years. With good behavior, Roy Hagen will be a free man at age 78.

The defendant surrendered his wallet and other possessions to friends and family, and waved goodbye as he was led out of the courtroom.

 

Even now, as Roy Hagen speaks by phone from Faribault, his thoughts are on the pain Sheila endured. "If there is one thing I want to tell people, it is that we have to do more to help people who are suffering," he says vehemently. "I think Sheila could have taken morphine and maybe some other drugs that would have helped her lead a normal life. But because they are narcotics, doctors say they can't prescribe them. If we can fly to the moon, why the hell can't we help people in pain? People in here talk about anger management for me. I was never angry as much as frustrated, terribly frustrated. But the legal system doesn't know the difference between the two."

Does he feel his wife is better off now? At this question, Hagen's voice cracks. "Many, many days, yes, she is probably better off than what she was going through. Oh, I miss her, God, I miss her," he says, crying. "I am not better off. Hell no, I am not better off. I miss her so much."

Asserts defense attorney Friedberg: "He got too long of a sentence. He is an incredibly nice and incredibly honest man. He would never, ever, say anything bad about his former wife as we prepared the defense."

Prosecutor Walter Kaminsky has misgivings of a different sort. "Sometimes I worry that we set the bar too low with a sentence like this, after someone has done what he did," he ventures. Kaminsky remains dubious about Hagen's account of his unsuccessful suicide attempts. "If you've had that much military training, you probably know how to kill yourself. Others who have been smaller, with less military experience, have done it."

Indeed, the 12-gauge shotgun wasn't Hagen's only option the day he killed his wife. The .32 Sheila had hidden was in the house, as were two smaller rifles. And there were certainly enough medications for a fatal overdose. Additionally, police investigators had estimated that Hagen shot Sheila from a distance of seven to twelve feet; why, Kaminsky asks, would a military man be concerned he wouldn't be able to do the job with the gun next to his head?

"I think he spent those hours after the shooting figuring out what he was going to do next," the prosecutor theorizes. He notes that, even with his legal bills, Hagen's financial situation is probably better today than it was when Sheila was alive: He no longer has to worry about supporting an invalid wife; the couple's house was sold for more than $200,000; and according to Hagen's attorneys, he anticipates continuing to receive his military pension.

"I think the stress got to him," says Kaminsky. "He got tired of her physical condition. I think he got tired of living a life where she was complaining a lot. I think he was very dissatisfied with the life that he had created for himself. He had been in the higher ranks of the military and then he had started working for $8 an hour, day in and day out, with a wife that was not working outside of the home. And with the spending habits that she had, it was very frustrating. There is no doubt in my mind that he loved her, but there is no doubt in my mind that he was fed up.

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