Eden Prairie's Thomas Houck faces 15 years for wife's assisted suicide

Thomas Houck, 61, has no noteworthy criminal record in Minnesota prior to his wife's suicide.

Thomas Houck, 61, has no noteworthy criminal record in Minnesota prior to his wife's suicide. Hennepin County Jail

Thomas Houck, 61, has been charged with "aiding" a suicide, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, for assisting his wife's suicide in their Eden Prairie home last week.

When he called 911 early on August 16, Houck reported he'd woken up to find his wife had killed herself, according to charges filed Monday by Hennepin County Attorney's Office. Later, he confessed to "searching for suicide methods" with his wife, and said he'd gone with her to buy the nitrogen and supplies she'd used to euthanize herself by pumping the gas into a bag over her head.

Still later, Houck told cops he'd helped rig the bag to end his wife's life, and had in fact been the one to turn on the nitrogen tank.

A video obtained by police shows Houck and his wife -- referred to as "Victim 1" throughout the criminal complaint -- purchasing the nitrogen tank, and another of Houck disposing of it after the act.

Under interrogation, Houck told police his wife had been experiencing "a lot of pain from an unknown cause," and that no medication was helping to ease it, charges say. A handwritten note next to his wife's body similarly says she "could not endure any more pain and needed a way out."

According to the complaint: 

"The Defendant reported he knew what he did was wrong and illegal so he wore gloves during the incident and when it was over, drove to a nearby store and disposed of the gloves and some other items that he did not specify. The Defendant stated he tried to rest, but couldn’t and eventually called 911 several hours later."

Houck is being held in Hennepin County Jail. He has no criminal record in Minnesota aside from minor driving and parking offenses. His first court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday, where the county attorney's office will ask for bail to be set at $70,000.

The crime of "aiding" in Minnesota law punishes anyone who "assists another in the taking of the other's own life." Formerly, the law had also prohibited anyone who "advises or encourages" suicide, though the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that portion of the law unconstitutional in 2014, finding such speech protected by the First Amendment.

The statute carries a maximum penalty of a 15-year sentence and/or a $30,000 fine.