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Ariz. man gets probation in wife’s mercy killing

PHOENIX — An 86-year-old man who carried out a mercy killing by shooting his ailing wife was sentenced Friday to probation after an emotional hearing where family members tearfully spoke on his behalf.

George Sanders could have faced more than 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The judge, who complimented the prosecutor for being ‘‘courageous’’ in recommending probation, allowed Sanders to walk out of the courtroom.

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Judge John Ditsworth said his sentence of two years’ probation was ‘‘individualized and tempers justice with mercy.’’

‘‘It is very clear that he will never forget that his actions ended the life of his wife,’’ Ditsworth said as Sanders stood at a podium, his hands clasped and shaking.

‘‘In this set of facts, there was a perfect storm of individual circumstances which placed Mr. Sanders in a position where he had to make a decision,’’ Ditsworth said. ‘‘This set of facts hits close to home for all of us.’’

Sanders, wearing khakis and a white sport coat, spoke for only a minute about his love for his 81-year-old wife, Virginia Sanders, whom he called Ginger.

‘‘Your honor, I met Ginger when she was 15 years old, and I’ve loved her since she was 15 years old. I loved her when she was 81 years old,’’ he said. ‘‘It was a blessing, and I was happy to take care of her.”

Sanders said his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1969, and she had used a wheelchair since 1971.

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