Just Another Orange County Murder Already Deemed Manslaughter: Phyllis Fish

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A retired medical doctor was charged today with shooting and killing his terminally ill wife around 1:30 p.m. Sunday at their home in the 5000 block of Cantante in the gated retirement community of Laguna Woods Village.

Prosecutors are certain that the shooting was premeditated but, unusual for by-the-book, law-and-order, let-God-sort-'em-out Orange County, they have not charged Dr. James Clyde Fish with first-degree murder.

They have not charged him with murder at all. 

Fish will answer to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter with a sentencing enhancement for the personal discharge of a firearm. That's because Fish is 90 and his deceased wife Phyllis was 88.

Make no mistake: if a conviction is reached, it will still be a death sentence. Fish would face a maximum sentence of 21 years in state prison.

He apparently already tried to exact a death sentence on himself. According to the Orange County District Attorney's office account of the incident, after giving his terminally ill wife morphine, he tried to shoot her but the gun did not fire. A caregiver who heard the gun click took the firearm away from him and called 9-1-1.

As sheriff's deputies were talking to her outside the home, two gunshots were heard. Fish had apparently got a small handgun, shot his wife in the head and then tried to do the same to himself. But the bullet reportedly struck his forehead.

He is recovering from his injuries at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. He will be held on $100,000 bail. A court date and time will be determined later.

Laurie Levenson, associate dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told the Orange County Register today that Fish could have been charged with first-degree murder, but, "Why put him in a prison system that's already overcrowded with violent 30-year-olds?"

She concludes the piece by saying, "There's only one word that applies here, and it's a not a legal term. It's tragic."


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