PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — A sobbing Matthew Stubbendieck told a deputy sheriff that he only tried to help his girlfriend “pass” after her bloody attempt at suicide had dragged on for several hours.
In a dramatic videotape shown in court Thursday, Stubbendieck said that Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan wanted to take her own life rather than fight the stage 4 cancer that she said had consumed her body.
But, after slashing her wrists several times with a steak knife, she still lay bleeding to death, in his arms, in a secluded section of trees at a Cass County hangout known as Acapulco Lake.
So, Stubbendieck said, he put his hands over her mouth and nose twice to “help her pass,” but each time, he quickly quit after she stirred or opened her eyes.
“I tried to ease her pain,” he said. “I yelled at God ... ‘Take her already. She’s suffered enough.’ ”
An hourlong video, taken from a deputy’s body camera, provided an emotional start to a scheduled three-day trial at the Cass County Courthouse.
Stubbendieck, 41, of Weeping Water, is charged with assisting in the Aug. 1 suicide of Wilemon-Sullivan, who, he said, traveled from her home in Florida because she wanted to “die in his arms.”
But one of his defense attorneys said that there was no plan for Stubbendieck to participate and that he was a victim of love and “deceit.”
The 38-year-old woman, according to Deputy Cass County Public Defender Angie Minahan, lied about having cancer, lied about undergoing surgery and radiation treatment, and concealed that she was addicted to painkillers and was the target of an embezzlement probe at her workplace in Florida.
“Matthew Stubbendieck was manipulated by a woman he believed he loved,” Minahan told jurors during opening statements.
A prosecutor, however, said there were “numerous” steps taken by Stubbendieck to help his girlfriend kill herself.
“The defendant chose to assist another person to commit suicide,” said Cass County Attorney Stephen Palm.
Palm also told jurors that Stubbendieck had another girlfriend, in Nebraska, and had told that woman in a text message that once Wilemon-Sullivan had died, “I’ll be all yours.”
The trial, before a jury of eight women and four men, is expected to continue into Friday.
Wilemon-Sullivan’s body was found Aug. 5, four days after Stubbendieck said she told him to leave. He said he called authorities because it was “the right thing to do,” despite promising Wilemon-Sullivan that he would remain quiet about her death for several months.
He insisted, in the videotape shown Thursday, that he did nothing wrong and said he was shocked to discover that Wilemon-Sullivan had slashed her wrist after he had walked away briefly to urinate.
Because the body had been in the woods near Weeping Water so long, an autopsy could not determine the exact cause of death.
Dr. Michelle Elieff, a forensic pathologist, testified Thursday that cuts on the body were consistent with self-inflicted wounds, but the blood vessels damaged were so small that it would have been difficult for Wilemon-Sullivan to die “exclusively” from those cuts.
The doctor said she could not rule out that morphine, found in Wilemon-Sullivan’s bloodstream, might have contributed to her death. She said she could not determine whether Stubbendieck’s attempts at suffocation had any impact.
Elieff said she found no evidence of cancer.
Prosecutions for assisted suicide are very rare in both Nebraska and Iowa. As of 2016, there had been only one prison sentence handed down in either state over two decades.