A jury of four women and two men today found 54-year-old Bruce Haughton guilty of assisted suicide in the death of Katherine Goddard, 52, at her Palm Coast home in June 2017. The jury deliberated just shy of two hours.
Haughton faces up to 15 years in prison, though his penalty scoresheet places him at seven years. He’s already served almost two. He was jailed in August 2017 and has been unable to post bail, being homeless and penniless. On Monday, he was offered a plea that would have had him serve at most one more year in jail or prison, and two years’ probation–and a suspended sentence in the event he would violate probation, as he said he was likely to for lack of means. He turned it down.
He will be sentenced on June 18 at 1:30 p.m.
Haughton and Goddard were found in a car in a sealed garage the evening of June 30, 2017. She had died. He had not. He was hospitalized and recovered–and was Baker Acted twice before his arrest that August.
The three day trial, including a day of jury selection, was a rare examination of the psychology of suicide, at times wrenching for the details about the people at the heart of the case, and for the effect the attempted double suicide has had on other survivors, particularly Goddard’s daughter. She referred to her mother as her best friend when she testified on Tuesday, and sat through proceedings today, averting her eyes when images of her mother after she died were flashed on overhead screens.
Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Dunton knew that sympathy would play an outsized role in the jury’s attempts to sort out facts from the spectral and inscrutable haze of suicide. By trial’s end, she was almost pleading with the jury to set sympathy aside, even though Haughton’s credibility had not made it through the three days intact. He appeared to have made up some stories, attributing his different version of events to the effects of carbon monoxide on his memory, or to his fear of being Baker Acted again in the days after the suicide. The prosecution was incapable of setting aside the fact that he was in that car, that he wanted to die, and that he didn’t because Goddard’s heart was far weaker (as the medical examiner testified).
But the prosecution also had enough evidence to show that Haughton “deliberately assisted in her suicide that she brought to him, that she asked, and he came up with this plan obviously with her agreement,” Dunton said.
Haughton’s credibility may have been the difference between sympathy and the letter of the law.
The unusual case would have been more straightforward had Haughton merely helped Goddard die. Florida’s law was amended in the 1990s specifically to criminalize potential cases resulting from the notoriety of that Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his practices. He was eventually convicted of assisted suicide in Michigan after helping 130 people die. But he had never attempted to die himself.
That’s not the case with Haughton. He was in the car with Goddard, passed out from his attempt, when Godard’s daughter found them in the garage when she came home from work. Together, Goddard and Haughton had rigged a car to die by carbon monoxide poisoning, connecting the exhaust to the car’s cabin through a dryer’s wide hose. Haughton had also helped seal the door to the house and brought a gun to the car as “back-up,” in his word, should the poisoning fail. Godard left a suicide note referring to both herself and Haughton as “we”: “Due to the pain we are both in and can’t get any help, this is the only way we can see getting out of it,” she’d written.
From the start, the prosecution sought to make his attempted suicide irrelevant, never disputing that Haughton wanted to kill himself, tried to do so, and failed. But to Dunton, Haughton’s attempt to die had nothing to do with whether he assisted in Goddards death. And the only question before the jury was whether he did assist. There was no doubt that he did, at least to some extent. “He deliberately assisted in her suicide that she brought to him, that she asked, and he came up with this plan obviously with her agreement,” Dunton told the jury in her closing arguments.
But to Assistant Public Defender Rose Marie Peoples, the assistance was incidental. The agreement was that they would die together. “You can’t ignore the facts, you can’t divorce out that he was trying to end his own life,” Peoples said. “He didn’t carry her into the car, he didn’t lift her into the vehicle.” Goddard herself had put her dogs in her room, and had lifted herself over him as he sat in the driver’s seat, to get to the passenger side, with a gun he’d left there at her feet (the passenger-side door could not open because of clutter). “She wrote her own letter. And in that letter we see a lot,” Peoples said. “She talks about we, and us, and the dogs.”
The prosecution played nearly three hours of audio recordings of Haughton’s interviews with detectives and meetings between Haughton and Goddard’s daughter, when he didn’t know he was being recorded. The recordings show his stories’ evolutions. At first he said he remembered nothing of the suicide arrangement. Then, triggered by a visit to (or a break into) the house from where Goddard’s daughter had trespassed him, he started remembering in significant detail.
“So you’ve been lying the whole time,” Goddard’s daughter, Raquel Schleenvoigt, tells him as they spoke at Ralph Carter Park.
He blamed the carbon monoxide.
“So did you chicken out or something? The car was turned off,” she tells him. He never clearly explained why that was the case: the car was off when Schleenvoigt found them. He claimed the poisoning had started around noon, when Schleenvoigt called her mother and got no answer.
“You would have died if you had started it at noon,” she tells him.
“It depends on when it shut off,” he says of the car.
“So you both planned it. Didn’t think about anybody else but yourselves,” she says.
“I didn’t.” He said both he and Goddard were “tired of life.”
Haughton took the stand for 80 minutes this afternoon, describing his hopelessness, his depression, and how he wasn’t thinking clearly that day. He described a life with Goddard that had gone sour after they got into a car accident and became dependent on pain pills, which a doctor cut off without explanations two weeks before the suicide. Goddard’s parents in New Hampshire wanted her to move there, but without Haughton. Haughton claimed she’d never go without him. Then she brought up the idea of suicide.
“Why didn’t you choose some other course or some other action?” Peoples asked him.
“Feeling hopeless and so much depression it looked like the only way out,” he said. “It seemed like the only way out.” He said he had his blinders on, though he had never attempted suicide before. “I was focused on ending my own life. She was focused on ending hers.”
Dunton asked him why he never described that state of mind to law enforcement. “I was ashamed of trying to commit suicide,” he said. “I was afraid I was going to be Baker Acted.”
Why not write a suicide note, like Goddard? “I didn’t care about writing a note, I didn’t have anybody to write a note to,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, the jury had a difficult time deliberating, as indicated by two questions they posed the court 90 minutes into deliberations. They wanted to know whether the definition of “assisting” had to be all-encompassing of the several words (“aid, abet, facilitate, permit, advocate or encourage”) included in their jury instructions’ definition, or whether it still applied if only some of the defining terms applied, but not others. Jurors gave an example: what if Haughton had only “permitted” the suicide? The judge instructed them to stick to the definition in jury instructions–essentially leaving it up to them to decide, because those instructions don’t make that distinction as explicit as the jurors wanted.
Jurors also wanted to know if they could take “state of mind” into account. “They’re looking at an insanity defense under another name,” Circuit Judge Terence Perkins said, outside the jury’s hearing. When the jury was present, he told them the same thing: rely on the jury instructions and the law given therein.
They went back to their deliberations, but not for long. They were back out in a matter of minutes with the guilty verdict. Goddard’s daughter cried. Haughton sat back in his chair, immobile.