LINCOLN — A Cass County man took “more than a passive role” in the bizarre 2017 suicide of a Florida girlfriend, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday in upholding the assisted suicide conviction of Matthew Stubbendieck.
Stubbendieck, who was sentenced to 25 days in jail and four years of probation, appealed his conviction. He claimed that the evidence was insufficient and that the trial judge, Cass County District Judge Michael Smith, erred by allowing prosecutors to admit text messages he sent to a second girlfriend and by allowing a pathologist to testify about the possible causes of death of Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan.
Wilemon-Sullivan, 38, had convinced Stubbendieck that she suffered from terminal cancer — showing him photographs of purported surgery scars and saying she was done trying radiation treatments — yet an autopsy showed no evidence of it.
Stubbendieck, who met Wilemon-Sullivan while living in Florida, led authorities to her body on Aug. 5, 2017, after the pair, in text messages, discussed having her fly to Nebraska so they could marry and she could “go out in (his) arms as (his) wife.”
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He acknowledged that he helped her find a secluded spot to take her life — a heavily wooded former rock quarry near Weeping Water, Nebraska. He said that during an almost eight-hour ordeal at the quarry, he tried to suffocate Wilemon-Sullivan when her attempts to slash her wrists were unsuccessful. Eventually, Stubbendieck said, he left the girlfriend, who was bleeding but still alive. He returned the next day to find her dead.
In the appeal, Stubbendieck maintained that he “merely acquiesced” to the planned suicide and that “his mere presence” as she tried to take her life was not enough to prove that he had assisted in her death.
But the Supreme Court, in an 18-page opinion written by Chief Justice Mike Heavican, disagreed, saying that Stubbendieck’s role was “more than passive” and that he had encouraged her to take her life.
“In one of Sullivan’s many text message conversations to Stubbendieck regarding Sullivan’s taking her life, she wrote that ‘[t]hisis the final end baby.’ Stubbendieck replied, ‘When you get here. We both need this. I promise it will be what you want and what I need. Please,’ ” the opinion says.
During his trial, co-workers of Stubbendieck and a second girlfriend testified that he was seeking morphine or heroin so Wilemon-Sullivan could die peacefully.
“The two forged and carried out a plan to transport Sullivan to Nebraska in order to conclude the contemplated act,” Heavican wrote in rejecting the appeal.
The court also ruled that text messages Stubbendieck shared with the second girlfriend were admissible because they helped show his preplanning for the suicide.
Testimony by a pathologist was also relevant, the court ruled, even though Dr. Michelle Elieff couldn’t determine the exact cause of death.
Dr. Elieff, who performed the autopsy on Wilemon-Sullivan’s partially decomposed body, testified that she had a level of morphine in her blood that was within the range of a fatal amount. She also testified that smothering and hypothermia could not be ruled out as possible causes of death.