A former doctor well-known in the Montpelier community is expected to be placed on probation after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter Thursday for fatally shooting his wife in the chest this past September.
Robert Dwight Degnan, 88, of Montpelier, pleaded guilty to the felony voluntary manslaughter charge as part of a plea bargain with special Bear Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Adam J. McKenzie, according to court records.
Degnan was initially charged with one count of first-degree murder on Sept. 8 after he fatally shot his wife, Marjorie, in the chest in the early morning hours of Sept. 6 in a failed murder-suicide attempt, according to police reports The Idaho State Journal obtained last year. Degnan was unable to shoot himself after he dropped the gun and was unable to find it due to his poor eyesight, police said.
Aside from indicating that Degnan admitted to shooting his wife in the chest during a hearing in Bear Lake County on Thursday, McKenzie declined to comment on the case until Degnan is officially sentenced on Aug. 19.
The plea agreement between Degnan and prosecutors was binding, meaning that when Mitchell Brown, the Sixth District Judge assigned to the case, accepted it he was then bound to enforce the terms of the agreement.
The terms of the agreement involved Degnan pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for prosecutors dismissing the felony first-degree murder charge he was initially charged with on Sept. 8, 2020. Additionally, the binding plea agreement calls for the judge to impose and then suspend a unified 15-year prison sentence and instead place Degnan on felony probation for 15 years.
In the event the 15-year prison sentence is later imposed for any reason, Degnan would be required to be incarcerated for at least five years before being eligible for parole. Brown has the discretion to impose any fine amount not to exceed $15,000 as well as any court costs.
The plea agreement also included probation conditions that require Degnan to reside in an assisted living facility located in Pocatello, Willard House, which according to its website is a facility that specializes in caring for individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Degnan will be required to wear an ankle monitor during his stay at the Willard House and is not permitted to leave the facility without a prior court order, according to court records.
Furthermore, the plea agreement states Degnan cannot have any non-consensual written, verbal or personal contact with any of his children.
Degnan also waived his right to appeal his guilty plea or to pursue post-conviction relief as part of the plea arrangement, which Degnan, his Pocatello attorney Stratton Laggis and McKenzie signed on Thursday.
For about three decades, Degnan served as an obstetrician and gynecologist for Bear Lake Memorial Hospital in Montpelier after having moved to the area with his wife, Marjorie, and three of their eight children in 1987. Up to that point, he had delivered approximately 10,000 babies throughout the country.
The homicide investigation began to unfold around 7 a.m. on Sept. 6, when the Bear Lake County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from Degnan saying he and Marjorie had planned to commit suicide together and that he had just fatally shot his wife, police said.
Officers and deputies with the Montpelier Police Department, Bear Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Idaho State Police were dispatched to the Degnan home on U.S. Highway 30 in Montpelier. While officers were en route, Degnan was transported to the same hospital he worked at for decades, Bear Lake Memorial Hospital, for examination, according to police.
Officers arrived at the Degnan residence to find Marjorie dead inside the home’s garage from a single gunshot wound to the chest, police said.
After being cleared at the hospital, Degnan was transported to the Montpelier Police Department where he was questioned by police.
During the interview, Degnan told authorities that he and his wife had planned a joint suicide about six months before he fatally shot Marjorie, sharing the idea with nobody else, police said. The plan involved Degnan shooting Marjorie because she had never handled a gun before, police said.
Degnan told police that he had a wasting disease that caused him to lose weight and muscle, adding that “he just didn’t want to live” anymore, police said. About six weeks prior to the shooting, Degnan endured a major convulsion during a medical episode that caused him to lose most of his eyesight, police said, adding that Degnan could only see out of a small spot in his left eye.
Soon after Degnan was charged with first-degree murder, McKenzie filed a motion notifying the court that his office has no intention of seeking the death penalty against Degnan.
Had he been convicted of the first-degree murder charge filed against him, Degnan faced up to life in prison.