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Man who told police he wanted to end wife’s suffering is charged with attempted murder in hospice two years after her death

Utah prosecutors are seeking to arrest a widower accused of trying to kill his wife, officials said Friday, nearly two years after she died of cancer.

A warrant for the arrest of DeWayne McCulla, 45, was signed Wednesday by a Fifth District Court judge, accusing him of attempted murder.

Arenda Lee McCulla, 47, died in a hospice Dec. 21, 2021, one day after her husband allegedly tried to choke her to death, according to an affidavit by La Verkin police officer Steve Johnson in support of the man’s arrest.

DeWayne McCulla admitted to trying to kill his wife, saying he wanted to end her suffering, police said. But other loved ones have pushed back at the suspect’s claims of an attempted mercy killing.

“I called suspect DeWayne McCulla and spoke to him,” Johnson wrote. “He admitted to placing his hand over the victim Arenda’s neck in an attempt to ease her suffering as she was dying from cancer and was on hospice.”

McCulla admitted to putting one hand “around her neck next to her carotid artery and pushed just hard enough” to “make her pass away quicker,” the officer wrote.

“Family members who observed what he was doing and pulled him off of her,” Johnson continued. “DeWayne said he would do this again because he loved his wife.”

The victim’s son, Anthony Michael Ryder, 26, said the alleged choking came out of nowhere.

“Originally he looked like he was caressing her and then I noticed she started not breathing correctly, kind of struggling,” Ryder said Friday.

“And then I looked at his hand placement and he started choking her and was getting more aggressive, grabbing her hospice bed to leverage himself to put his full body weight into her neck.”

Ryder, an artist in Oregon, said he and another family member had to intervene.

“It was originally just me, and then more family started coming in while I was trying to pull him off,” Ryder said. “It was me and one other family member fighting him and other ones were trying to secure the scene and trying to cope with what was happening.”

Ryder added: “I had to choke him out, just to get him to stop, and he was letting us know we’d have to kill him to make him stop. It went on for a good 20 minutes, fighting him off.”

Thought Arenda Lee McCulla was terminally ill, her son said she was comfortable just before the alleged attack.

“He definitely influenced it a lot more heavily,” Ryder said. “After that, her breathing and windpipe were pretty messed up, so it (her death) was accelerated.”

The choking happened at 11 p.m., and she died at 4:20 a.m. the next day, according to the son.

“It put her in a lot more distress and pain,” Ryder said. “She had a morphine pump and was working with hospice nurses to make this a smooth transition and not be in agony. After he went after her, her eyes opened and she was immediately confused and scared. My last moments with my mom was her witnessing this event and spitting up fluid.”

Arenda McCulla had hoped to travel to Oregon because it offers access to lethal medications for terminally ill patients, her son said.

The family had launched an online fundraising effort so she could make the trip and document her final journey.

Ryder said he’s frustrated it has taken two years for authorities to seek McCulla’s arrest. But he said: “At least we’ve reached the destination.”

A court spokesperson said Friday night she did not know if McCulla was in custody.

A Washington County prosecutor and a representative for La Verkin police could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

David K. Li

David K. Li is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

Madelyn Urabe

contributed

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