PARIS, Idaho — A former well-known Montpelier doctor was sentenced to serve at least three years in prison Thursday for fatally shooting his wife in the chest in September 2020.
Robert Dwight Degnan, 89, received a unified sentence of 12 years in prison, of which he must serve at least three before being eligible for parole, from 6th District Judge Mitchell Brown at the Bear Lake County Courthouse on Thursday morning.
Degnan in May pleaded guilty to felony voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain with special Bear Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Adam J. McKenzie; however, Brown did not accept sentencing stipulations the plea agreement Thursday and sentenced Degnan accordingly.
The plea agreement between Degnan and prosecutors was binding, meaning that if Brown had accepted it, he would have been 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 called for the judge to impose and then suspend a unified 15-year prison sentence and instead place Degnan on felony probation for 15 years.
But because Brown did not accept the plea agreement, he was then able to sentence Degnan how he saw fit up to the maximum 15-year prison term associated with voluntary manslaughter convictions in the state.
Degnan’s Pocatello attorney Stratton Laggis told the Idaho State Journal that Brown decided not to accept the plea agreement in part because of pretrial release condition violations Degnan had committed in August while awaiting sentencing and “based on the facts of the case.”
The first presentence violations Degnan committed were reported to the court during a hearing on July 26.
In addition to leaving the mental health facility where he was ordered to remain until sentencing, Degnan attempted to engage in a relationship with one of the residents at the facility, was combative with staff and personnel at the mental health facility and had secretly accessed money in some way to purchase a rope, court records say. The rope had been fashioned into a noose and was discovered in Degnan’s room, according to court records.
In addition to the 12-year unified sentence, Degnan was ordered to pay $1,600 in fines, about $2,400 in restitution as well as court and attorney costs.
Laggis described Degnan’s case as one with an awful outcome for everyone involved.
“I’m sure that everyone knows about it this case — it was a mercy killing that stemmed out of a suicide pact between (Degnan and his wife). Not that that excuses the conduct, but it’s a case that began tragic and ended that way.”
Degnan was initially charged with one count of first-degree murder on Sept. 8, 2020, after he fatally shot his wife, Marjorie, in the chest in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2020, 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.
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 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 recently 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.
Had he been convicted of the first-degree murder charge filed against him, Degnan faced up to life in prison.