A Lodi woman accused of helping her brother commit suicide pleaded guilty Thursday to accessory after a felony.
June Hartley, 42, may withdraw her plea, however, if a judge, after reviewing probation and medical reports, decides to sentence her to jail or to make it a felony conviction.
That decision will be made Aug. 3 by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Franklin Stephenson.
Hartley is accused in the Dec. 7 death of her brother, James "Jimmy" Hartley, 45, a blues guitarist who had suffered strokes and was in constant pain for more than a year. He inhaled a lethal dose of helium - a method outlined in a book popular among assisted suicide groups - in his mother's Lodi home, where he had been living since the strokes.
Prosecutors had charged Hartley with assisted suicide, which is a felony under California law, Deputy District Attorney Sherri Adams said. Accessory can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison, but it can also be a misdemeanor with no jail time.
"The Legislature's purpose in not decriminalizing assisted suicide is to protect against those who assist in a suicide for ill will," Adams said after court, citing examples including a caretaker tired of dealing with a difficult patient or a relative who stands to profit financially through an inheritance.
"This case did not include ill will. It's a case where the defendant violated the law but out of love and compassion for her brother," Adams said.
She said her office is leaving the sentencing decision up to the judge, and will not dispute his decision.
Both of Hartley's parents shook the prosecutor's hand and thanked her as they left court. They were surrounded by more than 50 supporters, most of them from Grace Presbyterian Church.
Hartley did not comment publicly after court, as her fate is still undetermined. She will report next month to a probation officer, who will interview her, read police and medical reports, and possibly interview other people connected to Hartley. That officer will then compile a report for the judge, recommending whether Hartley should serve probation, or be sent to jail or prison.
If Stephenson thinks Hartley should serve any time behind bars, the plea will be withdrawn and the case will head back toward trial.
Hartley remains out of custody, as she has since she first called Lodi police to report her brother's death. She had previously worked in education in Berkeley, until she moved to Lodi to help care for her brother.
Her Woodbridge attorney, Randy Thomas, said he was pleased with the District Attorney's Office.
"This was a unique situation involving mercy," he said. "It shouldn't be a felony."