By Patrick Sullivan
The day Sandra Gregory killed her mother, the two women had just received some bad news.
Amelia Meadie Gregory was having trouble seeing.
A doctor thought the vision problem was neurological, which probably meant the 94-year-old would need to move from the home she shared with her daughter on US 31 just south of Charlevoix into an assisted living facility.
Amelia Gregory told her daughter she didnt want to go into a nursing home; she wanted to be with her husband, who is deceased.
Sandra Gregory told police she granted her mothers last wish on March 27. Now Sandra Gregory, 73, is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of open murder.
She used a walker to reach the podium at a recent court hearing where, through her attorney, Kraag Lieberman, she waived a preliminary hearing on the charges.
District Court Judge Richard May denied a request that Gregory be released on bail.
All over Charlevoix you can find people who love and support Sandra Gregory but who dont want to talk about her case publicly.
A neighbor, who didnt want to be interviewed, merely said Sandra Gregory was a loving daughter who devoted her life to taking care of her parents.
At the courthouse, which filled with gray hair Tuesday afternoon for the hearing in Gregorys case, friends and family showed up to show their support for Gregory, but none of them wanted to speak with reporters.
At the Charlevoix Senior Center, Sandra Gregory was well known and beloved, one woman said. But this woman also said she didnt want to be interviewed about the case.
When asked why she thought nobody wanted to talk about what happened, even though Sandra Gregory has so many supporters in the community, the woman chalked it up to disbelief.
She said people thought what happened was so awful that no one wants to even acknowledge it even occurred.
CRIME OF THE HEART
Perhaps the sentiment of Gregorys supporters are best summed up by Janet McKay, a friend who wrote a letter to the court in support of the defendant.
Ms. Gregory seems to have committed a crime of the heart, McKay wrote. She loved her mother dearly and felt that she was doing what was best for her mother. If I had felt this was a matter of malice I would not have written this letter.
McKay wrote that in the 30 years shes known Sandra Gregory, she knew her as a church-goer who also liked to bike and swim.
She was with her mother or by herself and always smiling with a happy hello, McKay wrote.
McKay asked for leniency.
It was the will of her mother and a murder of compassion so it is my hope that the court will give Sandra minimal sentencing, she wrote.
Sandra Gregorys case almost took a bright turn this week when a request that she be released on bail was supported by Charlevoix County Prosecutor John Jarema.
Initially Gregory was held without bond primarily out of concern for her own safety -- she attempted suicide on the day she killed her mother and at first she did not do well in jail.
Defendant has exhibited periods of incoherency, wide mood swings, made innappropriate comments at innappropriate times, expressed suicidal desires and has made spontaneous remarks about her involvement in the charged offense that are against her penal interests, Lieberman wrote in a motion to evaluate her competency to stand trial.
But Gregory has since received extensive treatment and her condition has improved.
Since she returned from War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie on May 13, her health and mental condition are good enough that she no longer represents a threat to herself or others, Lieberman wrote in a motion for bond.
At the hearing this week, Jarema said he would not object to her release as long as it was supervised by mental health professionals.
However, May denied the motion because Community Mental Health had not yet agreed to become involved in the case and because the circuit court will now take over jurisdiction of the case. Gregory will have a chance to be released again in July when she appears before Circuit Court Judge Richard Pajtas.
LONG LIFE IN CHARLEVOIX
Theres no question Amelia Gregory lived a long and rich life.
She was born in Norwood Township and she graduated from Charlevoix High School in 1934. She attended college in Bay City, according to her obituary.
She and her husband settled in Charlevoix and she worked at Joe Williams Cigar Store and Newsstand for several year. Her husband died in 1996.
She loved to garden. She loved cross word puzzles. And she loved books, so much that she asked that memorial contributions in her name be made to the Charlevoix Public Library.
She had two daughters. Sandra Gregory, if she is released on bail, will go live with her sister and her sisters husband in Greenville, according to her lawyer.
Perhaps among the facts of the Gregory case -- the ones nobody in Charlevoix wants to acknowledge -- are the brutal details of the homicide itself.
Sandra Gregory described what happened to police, details which are summarized in court records. What was conveyed was an act that was bloody, violent and sudden.
Police arrived to find Amelia Gregorys bedroom in disarray. They found her deceased, lying on the floor. And they found a bloody injury around the womans eye.
Sandra Gregory quickly admitted to police that she killed her mother. She told them at first she attempted to smother her with a pillow.
When the old woman struggled against the pillow, she took a lamp and beat her over the head.
Sandra Gregory covered her mother with a blanket and called a friend, telling her shed done something bad. Another friend was contacted who called 911.
The day of her mothers death, Gregory tried to take her own life by slitting her wrists.
Lieberman filed a notice with the court that he intends to pursue an insanity defense.
WHAT IS JUSTICE?
Prosecutor Jarema said he doesnt know what justice might look like in this case.
Thats the perfect question because thats what Im struggling with daily, he said. What is justice in this case? As of right now I dont know.
A conviction for murder would likely put Gregory away for the rest of her life, Jarema said. He said he hasnt discussed plea deals with the defense yet.
The case is further complicated because of the violent struggle that led up to the death. Jarema said Amelia Gregory said she wanted to be with her deceased husband, but she didnt explicitly say she wanted to be killed.
Imagine you live 94 years and the last thing you see is your daughter coming at you with a pillow, Jarema said.
He said he hopes the killing didnt happen because Sandra Gregory was unaware of services available to take care of the elderly through the countys Commission on Aging such as in-home nursing care and Meals on Wheels.
I think she was anxious over her declining health, and I think she was anxious over her mothers declining health, and I think she was at a loss for what to do, and its sad, Jarema said.
Although this is by no means a straightforward case of assisted suicide, it appears Sandra Gregorys intent in this case was a compassionate killing to end her mothers suffering.
Michigan has a long and controversial history with assisted suicide.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian admitted to assisting around 130 suicides before he was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder and ultimately spent eight years in prison.
In response to Kevorkian, Michigan made assisted suicide illegal. In 1998, Michigan voters rejected a bill that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide.
Kevorkian, of Royal Oak, died last month, but as the case in Charlevoix demonstrates, the controversy over assisted suicide lives on.