A Nebraska man has been arrested for assisted suicide after he helped his girlfriend kill herself in the possibly mistaken belief she had stage-four cancer, authorities said. Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan, 38, allegedly said she would rather die in the arms of her boyfriend Matthew Stubbendieck than be killed by the disease.
An autopsy later failed to find any cancerous masses or tumours, authorities said. According to court documents, Wilemon-Sullivan had bought a one-way ticket to Nebraska from her home state of Florida in late July to visit Stubbendieck, who had moved away after losing his job.
The pair had texted about her death, and Wilemon-Sullivan had left her three children with a friend saying she was going on vacation to Key West, records said. Stubbendieck was said to have been told by his girlfriend she had stage-four cancer in the lymph nodes of her neck, armpit and stomach.
He told authorities he had never accompanied his girlfriend to medical appointments and didn't think she had a regular doctor, but that she had been diagnosed and treated in emergency rooms.
After saying she "wanted to die in his arms", the pair walked to a wooded area near Weeping Water, about 25 miles (40km) southwest of Omaha, on 1 August. Stubbendieck told police they settled in an area called Acapulco Lake and he walked away to urinate. He said when he came back, Wilemon-Sullivan had cut her wrists.
He reported staying with her for at least four hours, during which she cut her wrists several more times. He then told deputies he attempted to suffocate Wilemon-Sullivan on two different occasions to ease her pain, but stopped both times because she appeared to be suffering.
She was still able to whisper when he left her around 9:30pm, he said. Stubbendieck said he promised not to tell anyone about her death until five or six months later but changed his mind because the secret was "destroying his family", court records show.
He went to the police three days later and led deputies to the wood, where Wilemon-Sullivan was found dead having sustained self-inflicted cuts to her wrists. Morphine was also found in her system. The allegations come as a shock to Stubbendieck's parents, Howard and Sheri. Howard said his son told him months ago that Wilemon-Sullivan was suffering from terminal cancer.
"She was so sick from the cancer, she didn't want to live anymore, she couldn't take the pain," Howard told KETV. He said he doesn't know why his son would help her take her own life. "I assume it was love," Howard said.
While the autopsy could find no proof Wilemon-Sullivan had cancer, it couldn't conclusively prove she was totally cancer-free either, Lt. Larry Burke told the Omaha World-Herald. Burke said the investigation indicated that the suicide was planned out. "I don't know why he didn't seek help," he said of Stubbendieck. "Why didn't he get her help?"
Don Wilemon, Alicia's father, said the family is asking Cass County authorities to pursue prosecution "to the fullest extent allowable under Nebraska law". Cass County sheriff's deputies charged Stubbendieck, of Weeping Water, in the death of Wilemon-Sullivan, of Orange City, Florida.
He is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday 17 October for a preliminary hearing.