HEBRON, NE — Prosecutors said Monday an autopsy found no trace of cancer in a woman whose husband shot her to death because he believed she was terminally ill with the disease.

It wasn't known whether doctors had misdiagnosed the woman or her husband had misunderstood the diagnosis.

Vernal "Bob" Ohlrich, 76, pleaded no contest Monday to manslaughter for shooting his wife of 57 years in the head as she lay in a hospital bed Oct. 27. He could get up to 20 years in prison, but a long sentence was considered unlikely.

"I was told by doctors that she should call her children because she's not going to make it overnight."

"I was told by doctors that she should call her children home because she's not going to make it overnight," he said.

Ohlrich also disclosed that he had put the gun to his own temple after shooting his 74-year-old wife, Phyllis, but it jammed. "I just wanted to go with her," he said. "I would have, if the gun wouldn't have misfired."

However, prosecutors said that while Mrs. Ohlrich had undergone an operation for colon cancer in May 1998, she was cancer-free at her death.

Prosecutors did not dispute that Mrs. Ohlrich was in a lot of pain, or argue with testimony from Ohlrich and neighbors that she had said she wanted to die, but they said the pain may have been from a back injury.

"I'm not sure the autopsy report is correct," defense attorney Joe Murray said.

He said he had put the gun to his own temple after shooting his wife, but it jammed.

Mrs. Ohlrich underwent chemotherapy after her cancer surgery, but it was discontinued over the summer because of the side effects. She was readmitted to Thayer County Hospital in September after injuring her back.

She was on painkillers and had to be restrained in the hospital because she thrashed around in pain.

Hospital administrator Larry Leaming had no comment. A doctor who performed surgery on Mrs. Ohlrich last May also would not comment on the specifics of the surgery.

Ohlrich entered his plea after prosecutors agreed to drop charges of first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony.

In a letter to his lawyer, which was read in court Monday, Ohlrich explained his decision to plead no contest by saying it would be less of a burden on his four children and less stress on himself.

"All I can hope is that the judge won't give me prison time," said the letter, which appeared in Tuesday's editions of The Omaha World-Herald. "But if he does I will accept it and expect to die in prison. I might look healthy but I have a lot of health problems. ... I will accept the manslaughter charge."

Prosecutor Daniel Werner said he would seek some prison time but did not know how much. He said he agreed to the plea bargain because it would be pointless to give the elderly man a long prison sentence. No sentencing date was set.

Ohlrich's lawyer called the shooting an act of love rather than of malice.

After the plea hearing, Ohlrich said he did not regret what he had done: "She said she wanted to die several times. I was with her every day."


On July 2 1999, "Bob" Ohlrich was sentenced to between two years and three and one-third years. He had been facing a sentence of up to 20 years. He will be eligible for parole in a year.