Love, Money, or Mercy
Something snapped. That's all 68-year-old Roy Hagen can say about how he found himself standing over his bed in his pajamas, holding a smoking 12-gauge shotgun, looking at his wife Sheila, the person he loved more than anything else in the world, dead from a single wound to the head.
"I stood there for five minutes. And I said to myself, 'What in the world have you done? How could you do this?'" Hagen testified last month at the Sherburne County Courthouse in Elk River. "I just turned around and walked out of there and walked into the kitchen and ejected a shell out of the shotgun to see if there was another shell in it and there was, so I closed the chamber again. And I said, 'Well, there's only one thing for you to do and that's to go out to the garage and blow your brains out.'"
It was just after 6:30 in the morning on July 28, 1999. The midsummer heat wave that would lead news reports the next day was already thickening the air around the Hagens' spacious gray-brick rambler, nestled on a corner lot in a wooded area of Elk River, on the northwestern fringe of the Twin Cities metro. Still wearing his pajamas, Hagen raised the garage door to ensure that the discovery of his own body would prompt someone to investigate the house. "I didn't want Sheila to lay there dead for any length of time," he'd later explain in court. But as he sat on the steps that led from the garage into the kitchen, he discovered that no matter how deeply he inserted the barrel into his mouth, he couldn't reach the trigger of the long shotgun. Other positions worried him: The kick from the gun's discharge might skew his aim, leave him a vegetable, somebody's pathetic burden. So many other things in his life had been screwed up recently. Not this too.
He laid down the gun, lowered the garage door, and smoked a cigarette, then another and another. A notice from the Mayo Clinic about nodules on his lungs--cancer, he was certain--and Sheila's disapproval couldn't deter a 52-year habit. What difference did it make now anyway? He went into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot he'd made when he'd awakened at 5:30 to take Sheila's two miniature dachshunds for a walk. On a yellow legal pad, he scrawled a terse suicide note to his brother: DuWayne--I thank you for the living hell you have caused us for the last six years. Roy.
It went on like this for more than four hours, an intimate whirl of murder and suicide, cigarettes and coffee, pacing and positioning, the garage door going up and down. Hagen found a paintbrush he thought would help him reach the trigger, but the bristles were too soft and the handle too short. Later he came upon a plastic picnic fork that, with its two middle tines broken off, seemed sturdy enough to do the job. It almost worked, but the fork kept sliding down the trigger without exerting quite enough pressure. He wrote two more notes. One, added to the same page as the embittered farewell to his brother, was addressed to his daughter and grandchildren: Shanni--I love you and the kids but I just can't going [sic] living in this hell I have created for us. Love, Dad. The other, on a separate yellow pad, contained no salutation: Please have the dogs put to sleep they are so spoiled you could not find a good home for them. Roy.
In all, Hagen would later estimate, he sat on the garage steps and put the shotgun in his mouth 30 or 40 times. After the fork failed, he realized he wasn't going to be able to go through with it. He climbed into his maroon 1989 Lincoln Continental and drove the five miles to the Union Congregational Church near the center of Elk River, where he and Sheila had attended services every Sunday. The pastor, Trish Greeves, was in a meeting when she saw him coming up the back steps with a "crazed" look on his unshaven face, wearing his pajamas and slippers in the middle of the day. She quickly excused herself and went out to see him.
"Trish, I've killed Jill," he announced--though there has never been a meaningful Jill in his life. As Greeves scrambled to figure out what he was talking about, Hagen spoke Sheila's name. "Where's Sheila? Where is Sheila?" the pastor asked anxiously. "She's dead," Hagen replied.
Greeves led Hagen across the yard to her house and sat him down at her kitchen table. Holding his hand in hers, she asked him, "Roy, are you sure this has happened?" "Oh yes," Hagen answered, in a tone that spurred Greeves to call 911. In the few minutes it took for police to arrive, Hagen told her, "I've been sitting in the garage trying to get the courage to kill myself. I wish I could have finished the job." He had killed his wife, he said, because he couldn't stand to see her suffering anymore and couldn't see any other way out.
After he was handcuffed and read his Miranda rights, as he was being walked outside to the police cruiser, Hagen told Greeves and the officers, "I didn't do it because we had an argument. I did it because I love her."
It is not hard to understand how Elroy Luverne Hagen could have been swept away by Sheila Marion McPherson when he first saw her standing at a bus stop in Prestwick, Scotland, Sheila's hometown, in 1964. Born 12 days before Hagen in April 1933, Sheila bore such a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor that old friends remember the time she was mobbed by fans who mistook her for the actress. Those who saw her in public often remarked that she dressed in carefully coordinated outfits and would never be caught with a hair out of place.
Hagen was stationed in Prestwick as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, logging duty as a vehicle maintenance officer. Egged on by a friend who also knew Sheila, he impulsively called her one night. Almost immediately, he discovered that this fun-loving, vivacious woman with a thick Scottish brogue filled him with a joy he hadn't felt before.
Hagen had grown up in the farmlands around Kandiyohi County with what a court psychiatrist would later refer to politely as "much chaos in the household." His father died when Hagen was 15; his mother's subsequent remarriage, to an alcoholic, lasted two tumultuous years before he passed away. The family moved to nearby Willmar, where Hagen finished high school in 1951 and enlisted in the air force that same year. When he re-upped four years later for another hitch, he was newly married. In 1958, a year after his daughter Shanni was born, he was accepted into officer-candidate school; he was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1960.
When Hagen fell in love with Sheila, she was a divorced single mother of a ten-year-old son. His tour of duty in Scotland ended in July 1965, and he filed for divorce as soon as he returned to the States. He brought Sheila to Minnesota; they lived for a month with Hagen's younger brother DuWayne, then married in Iowa, at what Roy described as "a little brown church in the vale." Resuming the nomadic military life, over the next dozen years the newlyweds hopscotched from southern Illinois to Vietnam to Topeka, to Virginia, Germany, and England.
Their social life was no less hectic. "We were quite the gadabouts," Hagen recalled in his court testimony. And wherever they went, Sheila poured her vibrant charm into the local officers' wives' club, planning events and bolstering Hagen's career by networking with the other spouses. Hagen recalled the three years they spent in Kansas at Forbes Air Force Base with particular affection, claiming that when he'd propose a night on the town "at the drop of a hat," Sheila would be ready to go.
It was in Europe during the late 1970s, Hagen said, that he first noticed Sheila's energy beginning to flag. Having signed on to run the NCO (non-commissioned officers) wives' club in England, she was forced to cancel appointments because she didn't feel well. Sheila had suffered from a thyroid condition for as long as Hagen had known her, but this was different, a feeling of pain throughout her body that doctors couldn't diagnose, coupled with a growing lack of initiative. In Germany she began receiving cortisone shots to combat her suffering. When Hagen was transferred to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia in 1982, Sheila didn't involve herself in the wives' club, or, increasingly, much of anything.
At Langley Hagen held an impressive title befitting a career officer: chief of airlift and mobility training for the tactical air command. But when he was passed over for promotion to colonel in 1986 because he was two years away from the military's mandatory retirement age of 55 for non-generals, he began considering other options. Out in Minnesota his brother DuWayne urged him to join him at Metro Fork Lift, the company he owned in Maple Grove: Roy would work as general manager for about $35,000 a year while DuWayne ran the sales floor. Sheila lobbied to stay in Virginia, where they had friends. Nevertheless, Hagen decided to leave the air force in '86 with a hefty pension and persuaded Sheila to relocate to the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.
Hagen's seven-year tenure at Metro Fork Lift was an acrimonious disaster for both him and his brother. In 1993 Roy quit; DuWayne sold the business a year later. In his statement to police hours after he shot Sheila, Roy said of his brother, "I haven't spoken to him for six years....He reneged on everything, on a salary...on everything." A police search of the Hagen home turned up an address book with DuWayne's name and phone number crossed out, in addition to Hagen's suicide "thank you" addressed to his brother.
The two have reconciled since the shooting. In court DuWayne testified that his brother's concern about Sheila's declining health had been a factor at work. "I tell everybody that Sheila was just treated with unconditional love," DuWayne said. "No matter what the situation, it was Sheila first. In fact, it affected his ability to work, in my opinion. But she would come driving up--say, he would see her in the window--and he would rush outside and open the door for her. It was Dolly this, Dolly that," DuWayne said, invoking his brother's pet name for Sheila. "'How is Sheila today?' 'She's hurting, she's hurting.' It affected everything Elroy did in his whole life. She came first always, always, and it affected his performance at work. It affected his whole life, obviously."
Contrary to Hagen's own account of the early years of his marriage, DuWayne testified that he'd noticed Sheila's low energy as early as 1965, when the couple stayed with him and his wife before their wedding. "I would get up in the morning and go to work, come home at four o'clock, and Sheila would still be in bed and, like, five, five-thirty she would come out of her bedroom....She came with an extreme amount of medication. For [sic] what I understand, her first husband was a drug salesman and she had a lot of exposure to drugs." When the two couples went on a tour of Washington, D.C., for a long weekend in 1973, he added, "Sheila ended up staying in her room for the whole three-day period....Her feet hurt or there was always something wrong so she couldn't do anything."
After the move to Minnesota, Sheila's pains grew more pronounced. She had been forced to stop taking the cortisone because it was affecting her immune system, and none of the other medications seemed to be as effective. Hundreds of miles removed from her friends and with Roy off at work, her loneliness exacerbated her misery. By 1991 the strain was beginning to get to Hagen, who sought treatment for depression and wore a medicinal patch to help ward off debilitating cluster headaches. After breaking off with his brother, he took menial sales jobs, first at Target, then Menards. He also became involved in his local American Legion, eventually serving as post historian and, for a time, post commander.
The spring of 1994 brought a rare bright spot. The Hagens had been unable to find a local church where they felt comfortable. But that changed when they attended Easter services that year at Union Congregational. They subsequently became active and popular members of the church, with Hagen serving on the memorial committee and the board of trustees and Sheila participating on the deaconite board and flashing some of her old social élan on behalf of the growth and membership committee.
On December 6 of that year, however, Sheila received news that her son by her first marriage had died in Virginia of a drug overdose. This plunged her into a dreadful mixture of guilt and anger at Hagen for coaxing her to Minnesota. "She thought if we wouldn't have come up here that she would have seen this coming and she could have interceded," Hagen said in court, adding, "I don't see where she could have done anything if she would have been there."
When Union Congregational pastor Patricia Greeves was asked in court whether Hagen was supportive of his wife during her ordeal, she replied, "She would not have survived without him. He made the arrangements. He was the go-between with the mortuary. He went back to Virginia and brought back things. Roy protected Sheila in a lot of ways in that time."
After her son died, Hagen testified, Sheila's condition got "drastically worse." She went through cycles of extreme pain that would have them visiting doctors and clinics throughout the state, with precious little relief or even a reliable diagnosis. Eventually Sheila was told she had polymyalgia rheumatica, a fairly common form of arthritis among senior citizens, to go with an earlier finding of fibromyalgia, an inflammation of the nerve endings that can't be identified as a medical certainty even by autopsy but is considered an extremely uncomfortable (albeit nonfatal) condition best treated by painkillers and, in Sheila's case, muscle relaxants.
Describing a typical day, Hagen testified that he'd come home from work to find Sheila asleep or watching television on the couch. She'd have taken chicken out of the freezer to thaw but not have had the energy to cook it, or she'd leave a shirt half ironed. She'd cry and claim that she wasn't any good for him. Numerous times, he testified, she'd said she wanted to die. After the shooting, Hagen told a psychiatrist that sometimes Sheila would ask him to get down and pray with her for God to take her--something he refused to do.
Yet publicly Sheila put on a brave front. At Union Congregational she was almost universally regarded as a delightful person, renowned for her readings of Bible passages in her Scottish brogue. She'd knitted a cap for a member who was undergoing chemotherapy--no mean feat for someone suffering from chronic pain.
Aside from Roy, Greeves was one of the few people in Minnesota in whom Sheila would confide, to the point where Hagen would occasionally invite the pastor over to help buck Sheila up. "When Sheila's on, she's delightful, outgoing, very extroverted, with this great brogue and black wig, and...people were really taken to her," Greeves told police after the shooting. "Few people probably saw the down side. If somebody happened to run into it, they couldn't believe it was the same person. I had been with them in their home when she's down, and she can strike out and...just kind of be verbally abusive to everything and everyone." The abuse, Greeves added, was "not directed at Roy"; he would just "absorb" it. "I think he did carry a lot of guilt," she concluded. "More than he should have."
The greatest source of that guilt stemmed from the couple's move to Minnesota. More than anything, Sheila wanted to go back to Virginia, and Hagen had to constantly remind her that they couldn't afford it. In fact, the Hagens had been hemorrhaging money ever since Roy left Metro Fork Lift. Even with health insurance, Sheila's medications and constant doctor's visits were a financial drain. There were also occasional vacation trips, and Sheila was, by all accounts, a clothes horse. ("If she would buy a coat she would buy three, one blue one, one yellow one, one gray one, all the same," DuWayne testified, adding that he counted 120 pairs of shoes when he cleaned out the closets after the shooting.) Hagen staunchly defended his wife's buying habits and the trips they took to get Sheila out of Minnesota, saying he liked the reaction she drew from people when she was feeling good and out with him in public.
But he compounded the situation with poor money management. Hagen's military pension paid $4,000 per month, and there was another $20,000 a year in social security. When he was hit with a bill for $18,000 in back taxes, he put it on their credit card; same thing with the Lincoln, which he bought after he totaled his other car in an accident in the summer of 1998. In a statement to police the day of the murder, Hagen claimed he and Sheila had run up $50,000 on fourteen credit cards over the past four years and held two mortgages on their house, for another $170,000. On the day he was arrested, Hagen was earning $8.75 an hour.
During his last eight years with Sheila, Hagen's depression came and went. More than once he broached the idea of suicide. In addition to a $200,000 life-insurance policy he already had on himself, he said in court, he took out two accidental-death policies that would have given Sheila another $160,000. (By contrast, there was no life-insurance payoff for Hagen in the event of Sheila's death.) With that, social security, and a portion of his air-force pension, he figured, Sheila could live in a healthcare center. "They could take care of her better than I could," he said. But Sheila got upset whenever Roy talked that way, telling him that she loved and needed him. "'I can't get along without you.' She always said that. 'What am I going to do if you die before me?' That was a constant fear of hers," Hagen claimed--to the point where she hid a .32 caliber pistol he kept in the house.
For years the people with whom the Hagens had socialized the most--if only to go to Perkins for Sunday dinner after church--were retired army chaplain Bill Huntley and his wife Joyce. In December 1998 Joyce was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She died the following year.
Nevertheless, to casual acquaintances Sheila Hagen seemed upbeat in the months before she was killed. A neighbor who attended a kitchen-gadget party with her in June 1999 later remarked that Sheila had told her she felt the best she had in years. And with good reason: Despite their financial difficulties, she and Roy had finally decided to move back to Virginia in the spring of 2000.
Sheila Hagen's final descent into pain lasted five and half days. When Roy came home from the millwork department at Menards on Thursday night, July 22, 1999, he found his wife in the worst shape he'd seen in some time. Friday night was even worse, yet when he begged to take her to the emergency room in Princeton, she demurred, saying she preferred to see her own doctor on Monday. Hagen had to work over the weekend, but the store was only five minutes from home, so he spent Saturday like a ping-pong ball, returning to the house on his lunch break to check on Sheila, going back to tell his boss he had to leave early, then arriving home to find her crying uncontrollably on the couch. After three hours, he demanded they go to Princeton.
Sheila was in such pain that Hagen had to help her put on her underwear. How embarrassing, Sheila wailed, what a way to live, a woman can't even put on her own panties, what kind of person am I? On the way to the hospital, Hagen would later testify, every bump in the road made her yell. "See what I mean?" she screamed at him: "I can't take care of myself so you can't die, you just can't die before I do."
In the previous day's mail, Hagen had received the result of a smokers' study he'd participated in at the Mayo Clinic, informing him that there were some problems with his lungs that required closer scrutiny. Mindful of the hundreds of thousands of cigarettes he'd inhaled during his life, he feared the worst. "Here's this woman who is screaming I can't die before she does and here I'm absolutely positive I've got lung cancer," he would testify, surmising that Sheila had somehow found the letter. Only much later would he discover that the spots on his lungs were not cancerous.
As Hagen told it, the trip to the emergency room was fruitless. Although Sheila was allergic to codeine, she was able to tolerate the levels in codeine-based Tylenol 3, but the doctors didn't have any on hand and she had little choice but to get a codeine injection for pain relief. Even after he was able to fill the Tylenol prescription during his lunch break on Sunday, Sheila wasn't improving. The next day, Monday, he again told his boss at Menards he wouldn't be in. Instead he took Sheila to her doctor, who, as he had many times before, supplemented the Tylenol with muscle relaxants. Given the severity of her pain, the doctor suggested Sheila come back for a CT scan of her lower body on Tuesday, Hagen's day off. On Tuesday night Sheila was in such pain that she went to bed at 8:30, in tears. Hagen followed her after the late news, and fell asleep to the sound of her moaning.
Wednesday morning he awakened before the alarm went off at 5:30 and took the dogs for a walk. When he returned, Sheila was moaning more loudly. For a time he stood in the bedroom, listening to her. The next thing he remembered, he said, he had the shotgun in his hand, and Sheila wasn't moaning anymore.
Located along the Mississippi about 35 miles from Minneapolis, once-sleepy Elk River saw its population jump by half during the 1990s, from 11,000 to 16,500. Along with the arrival of Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot, and a doubling in housing prices, crime became an inevitable part of the city's rapid growth. In 1990 Elk River was rocked by Jeffrey Sebeck's murder of his girlfriend's three-year-old child. The notorious killing of Linda Jensen in nearby Becker Township in 1992 recently reappeared in news headlines after DNA testing uncovered a suspect who will soon be tried in the Sherburne County courthouse--located just a mile from the center of Elk River. The city even had a drive-by shooting a few years back. When Sheila's murder was splashed across the front page of the local Star News, it gave residents another reason to ponder what the world was coming to.
The most supportive local haven for Roy Hagen following the shooting was Union Congregational. The week after Sheila was killed, the church held a memorial service that included bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" and a message from Hagen thanking them all for coming, expressing his regret, and asking their forgiveness. Pastor Trish Greeves was in an awkward position, to say the least. "Sure, there was a lot of confusion and mixed feelings among the people here after [the shooting]," says Greeves, a woman with a broad face, sparkling eyes, and a warm, soothing voice that suits her profession. "There was the issue of people feeling almost disloyal toward Sheila if we forgave Roy. Because Sheila was the outgoing, bouncy one and Roy was the quiet one, more supportive, enabling her to do what she did."
The ambivalence became more acute in late August of 1999, when a judge reduced Hagen's bail from $1 million to $100,000 and permitted him to leave home under certain circumstances--including church services--as long as he was accompanied by a family member. (He was also fitted with a monitoring device.) During Hagen's second Sunday back at Union, Greeves addressed the situation directly from the pulpit. "We are uneasy with unresolved questions...we feel love and concern for Roy one minute and suspicion and anger in the next....It is not being disloyal to Sheila to be supportive and caring and sympathetic to Roy's predicament. And it is not being disloyal to Roy to have doubts and anger." Ultimately Greeves urged her flock to "err on the side of mercy." Speaking directly to Hagen, who sat sobbing in one of the pews, she added, "Roy, this is exactly where you belong, and I'm glad you know it."
Despite residents' misgivings about what Hagen had done, his continued presence in the community and the media reports about the shooting led many to think of Sheila's death as a mercy killing. That perception was rebutted somewhat in mid-September 1999, when a grand jury indicted Hagen not only on the initial charge of intentional second-degree murder, but also for murder in the first degree.
One of the people who testified to the grand jury was Jane Kachenmeister, who had contacted police five days after the shooting with a very different perspective on the Hagens' relationship from the one Roy presented. Kachenmeister knew Sheila from church and from Bible-study class. She said the two gravitated toward one another because she too suffers from fibromyalgia, as well as an assortment of other maladies. Sheila was intrigued by Kachenmeister's use of Buddhist and Taoist healing techniques, often in place of traditional Western medications, and had borrowed some of her videotapes on the subject. According to Kachenmeister, Sheila said it was nice to have a "real person" to finally talk to. The last time the two were together, about a month before Sheila was killed, Sheila was very happy and moved so well that it was hard to keep up with her. "The idea that she was put out of her misery is not right," Kachenmeister told police.
Additionally, Kachenmeister's statement referred to strife in the Hagens' marriage. One day when the two women were eating lunch together, she asserted, Sheila had asked how she'd mustered the strength to get a divorce, saying she wished she too had the courage. She proceeded to tell Kachenmeister that she'd had an affair in Virginia, and that Hagen had never forgiven her for it; he'd become excessively "clingy and suffocating," demanding to know her whereabouts at all times. "She said everybody thought Elroy was just fabulous, [that] he doted on her and cared for her, and she said, 'Oh, he adores me,' and rolled her eyes," Kachenmeister related.
"I miss Sheila a great deal. I remember how she used to come over, how she called my 82-year-old father 'Poppy,'" Kachenmeister adds today. "If she had seen it coming, this wouldn't have happened. He would have been lying there instead of her, because she was a real fighter." She quit attending services at Union when they allowed Hagen to return, Kachenmeister asserts--"I wasn't going to share space with a murderer"--and has no plans to go back.
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.)
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.
"There's a lot of things we'll never know," the prosecutor continues. "Sheila confided in very few people--mostly Roy and the pastor, Greeves. I think [Greeves] could have told us a lot more than she did, but she kept saying that it was a confidential pastor relationship: We probably got a sixteenth of what she knew."
And what does Patricia Greeves know? "I know that Sheila has forgiven Roy," the pastor says today. "I can't imagine Sheila not forgiving him. Sheila was that kind of a person. I can hear her brogue now, forgiving him. My faith says Sheila has the full picture of life now--the view she has is the view of God, and therefore I have no doubt that she has forgiven him. She would have compassion for his situation."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.
- Sketchy Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill empire crumbles
Sat., Oct. 17, 12:00am
Sun., Oct. 18, 12:00pm
Fri., Oct. 23, 7:00pm
Sat., Oct. 24, 7:00pm
- Anti-abortion investigators' shocking revelation: U does research
- Top 5 Hate Mails of the Week: 'I can't believe Shitty Pages...'