A Lodi woman who helped her brother commit suicide was spared jail time Monday in a resolution that made a courtroom full of supporters break into applause.
June Hartley, now 44, will perform 250 hours of community service and serve three years on probation for her role in the Dec. 7 death of her brother, James "Jimmy" Hartley.
"This was a case of sisterly love and there were no hidden motives. Jim and June suffered terribly for three years, as did all of the family," their father, Clarence Hartley, said after court proceedings. "This is a lawabiding family that got caught in a terrible situation."
A jazz musician, 45-year-old Jimmy Hartley suffered strokes that left him wheelchair-bound and in constant pain. For months he repeatedly begged his sister to help him end his life, according to her attorney, Randy Thomas.
Two months after the death, prosecutors charged June Hartley with assisting suicide, a felony. After several discussions behind closed doors, they agreed that she would instead plead guilty to accessory after the fact. The jail time and level of crime - felony or misdemeanor - would be left up to Judge Franklin Stephenson.
After reviewing a probation officer's pre-sentencing report, as well as a report by a doctor who interviewed June Hartley, the judge said Monday that the crime would be a misdemeanor. She will serve no jail time as long as she does not violate terms of her probation.
"The court is in no way condoning the behavior of Miss Hartley, but there are a number of unusual circumstances," Stephenson said.
June Hartley had no criminal record and was working in administration at University of California, Berkeley, when her brother fell ill. He moved from Modesto to their mother's Lodi home, and June Hartley soon moved in to help care for him.
Jimmy Hartley breathed in the helium from two tanks his sister rented, a method of suicide outlined in a book Lodi police found in the Hartley home, according to prosecutors.
For her involvement, June Hartley could have faced up to three years in state prison. Instead, the misdemeanor conviction will make it easier for her to go back to work, said Thomas, who assured the judge that his client won't be back in court for any other matters.
June Hartley declined to comment, nor did she make a statement to the judge or a probation officer. After leaving the courtroom, she hugged the throngs of supporters, most of them Grace Presbyterian Church members who have attended every court hearing.
Unlike previous post-court hallway gatherings, on Monday she smiled broadly at the crowd. A few people shed tears, including one woman who was comforted by a friend, who said, "It's OK. She's not going to jail."
Her father at one point made a brief speech thanking Thomas and cracking a joke about how he'd once thought of the lawyer as a "rat," but knew he'd want Thomas on his side if he needed legal help.
Minutes later, Clarence Hartley was more serious as he talked quietly about the right-to-die issue, saying that most opponents haven't watched loved ones suffer.
"When you're in pain 24/7, you can't sleep - I'm sorry," the Angels Camp man interrupted himself as he lost his composure and fought back tears.
Thomas praised the judge, probation officer and prosecutors for the case resolution.
Deputy District Attorney Sherri Adams did not oppose Monday's outcome, and had said that her office wanted assurances, provided by the doctor and probation officer, that June Hartley was not a danger to the community.