BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — They spent decades together, forging an extraordinary bond.
Like many, they needed help as they got older. They moved into a retirement home together.
But after a car crash badly injured Winnie Smith, leaving her depressed and in pain, her lifelong companion faced a terrible decision. Smith asked Sandra Bonertz to end her life; Bonertz gave her her wish.
She fatally shot Smith, 83, in the room they shared at Pinewood Glen Retirement Community.
Bonertz, 77, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison.
Judge David Zulfa noted the unusual circumstances of the case before handing down the sentence.
“This is, unfortunately, a unique case factually, and a tragedy for everyone involved,” Zulfa said.
Jano Mattaeo, Bonertz’s public defender, has said his client and Smith made a suicide pact in which Bonertz didn’t get to fulfill her part. He said she now lives in loneliness and grief.
Bonertz pleaded no contest last month to voluntary manslaughter. A charge of first-degree murder was dismissed.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel has said Bonertz’s actions were criminal despite being carried out in a sense of compassion. An investigation revealed Smith had asked another person to kill her before Bonertz followed through, shooting her three times in the chest.
California law does not allow “mercy killings” by gunshot, nor does it allow friends or family to end a loved one’s life.
The state’s “End of Life Option” provides checks and balances to make sure a terminally ill person who wishes to die is fit to make that decision and aware of alternatives. If they choose to die, a doctor gives them life-ending medication they take themselves.
A caregiver discovered Smiths’ body on July 11. Bonertz told police Smith “asked me to do it, and I did,” according to court filings.
Police found a revolver underneath a comforter on Bonertz’s bed, the filings say.