Bruce Haughton, the 54-year-old former R-Section resident who attempted to die in a double-suicide with his girlfriend, Katherine Goddard, two years ago, failed his part of the arrangement. Goddard died in what a judge described as a “gas chamber” she and Haughton created together.
Haughton survived, but was then Baker Acted at least four times in following weeks for attempting to kill himself again, before his arrest on a charge of assisted murder–that is, illegally assisting suicide. By then he was living the life of a homeless man, camping out at Rymfire Drive’s Ralph Carter Park, because Goddard’s daughter no longer wanted him in the house he’d previously shared with his girlfriend.
A jury convicted him on the second-degree felony charge in a May trial, one of the most unusual trials to hit Flagler’s court docket. The question remained: would a judge sentence him to prison?
Circuit Judge Terence Perkins answered that question with an emphatic yes this afternoon, sentencing Haughton to seven years in prison and seven additional years of probation. The severity of the sentence took Haughton’s attorneys aback–and presumably stunned Haughton as well: he showed little emotion, having cried on several occasions earlier in the hearing, during others’ testimonies.
Haughton’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rose Marie Peoples, argued before Perkins that Haughton should not get more jail time. Peoples had an expert witness, a psychiatrist, testify about Haughton’s history of mental illness, his suicidal tendencies, the intensity of his chronic and untreatable pain. She had Haughton himself testify to his many suicide attempts and his seeming realization through counseling since that it was not the way to go. He’s not tried to kill himself since he’s been at the county jail. After trying to invalidate the jury’s verdict, she asked the judge to sentence Haughton to the two years he’s already served at the Flagler County jail, where he is the longest-serving inmate, and at most, four years of probation.
Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark pointed to what prosecutors and defense attorney at that point in proceedings call the “scoresheet”–how many months of prison a defendant scores for, based on a series of objective criteria such as the severity of the sentence, prior offenses, mitigating circumstances and so on. Haughton scored for a minimum of 85.65 months. Anything below that would require the judge to do a “downward departure” away from the sentencing guidelines. Perkins could do that. But downward departures are based on criteria of their own.
Perkins conceded that Haughton and Goddard were working in concert and that he never forced her to kill herself. She’d written a suicide note, she was gravely depressed, as he was, she was in pain, she wanted out. But, the judge said, “Mr. Haughton showed no real remorse for the death of Ms. Goddard. The remorse that he expressed was that he was not successful in his own death. He said that more than one time. I never, ever heard him show or say anything indicating remorse that he caused Ms. Goddard’s death. Anybody looking at the facts of this case can determine–I’m sure it’s now obvious to everybody, including Mr. Haughton that when Ms. Goddard came to him and said that she wanted to end her life, she wasn’t asking for his help to end her life, she was asking for his help in not ending her life. An argument can be made, a good argument, that but for Mr. Haughton’s actions in setting up the garage and the car the way he did, Ms. Goddard would never have been successful in taking her own life. That being said, I find no basis for a downward departure in that respect.”
Perkins, who was not entirely accurate about Haughton’s lack of remorse, was discounting what Haughton had testified to repeatedly: that he was not in his right mind at the time of the suicide attempt. He was as depressed as Goddard. “I wanted out,” he said. He described himself in a state of “not being able to know better at the time,” a familiar description of the mental state people attempting suicide find themselves in. “I still love Kathy, always will. I wish there would have been somebody there to be able to see the depression that we were in and help us.”
Goddard’s daughter testified for the prosecution over several very emotional minutes–a daughter who described her mother as her lifelong best friend. “She was the only person I could be completely open and honest with, the same with her,” Goddard’s daughter said, crying. She spoke of how, since then, she’s been battling cancer and enduring the hardships of chemotherapy, and asked how one could go through “something like chemo and beat cancer” when one’s main “rock” is no longer there to depend on . At that point she included Haughton as the “stepfather” she also lost. It was not a wish for him to be back in her life, but a preface to an indictment: “You really let me down, you let my family down, and worst of all you let my mom down,” the daughter said from the stand, directing her words at Haughton. She told him he could have helped her mother, could have called 911, could have sought help. “Instead, you helped her” die.
Haughton and Goddard had brought a handgun to the car where they inhaled the carbon monoxide. The gun was intended to be the instrument of their death should they fail. It was Goddard’s daughter who discovered them. Goddard was dead. Haughton was still breathing, and would be treated by paramedics and revived. Peoples pointed out the irony, to the court, of paramedics–the state’s arm–reviving Haughton only for a different arm of the state–the court–to punish him and incarcerate him.
Haughton’s little brother was the only one other than Haughton and his attorney to speak on his behalf. The two men had grown apart since Haughton had become involved with Goddard, but the younger Haughton told the court he wanted his brother back. At that point, both men broke down.
The defense intends to appeal.
Today’s sentencing hearing coincided with the two-year anniversary of Haughton’s incarceration at the county jail. Because he’s served two years, the time is credited to the seven years to which he’s been sentenced. He can get out early with good behavior after serving 85 percent of his total sentence. That means he can be out of state prison in four years, assuming he doesn’t try to end his life in the interim.