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VIRGINIA BEACH -- A Circuit Court judge this morning sentenced a former Navy sailor to five years in prison for helping his superior commit suicide.
Paul Stephen Bricker, 27, pleaded guilty April 4 to voluntary manslaughter in the July 2009 death of Gerard Curran. Bricker, a petty officer second class at the time, testified Curran led him to believe he was ill and asked him to help him commit suicide so his family would still receive death benefits from the Navy.
Curan, a 45-year-old chief, was Bricker's superior and mentor, Bricker said.
Bricker said he initially refused Curran's request but eventually agreed as Curran became more desperate. Curran had been having marital problems, abusing alcohol and had stabbed himself in the chest in April 2009, Bricker's defense attorney, Suzanne Moushegian, said in court.
According to court testimony, Curran and Bricker met in First Landing State Park, where Curran strangled himself with a yellow physical therapy band. When he passed out, Bricker stabbed him in the chest with his diving knife, gathered his belongings and left, according to the testimony.
Police and an autopsy originally ruled Curran's death a suicide, but changed their minds after receiving new information about a year later.
Moushegian said Bricker made a mistake but received no benefit from Curran's death. He refused Curran's offer to pay him $5,000 and he lost his job with the Navy, she said.
"He'a being penalized for being young and naive and making big mistakes," Moushegian said. "But he is not evil. He did not do it with malice. He was trying to help."
Curran's wife, Dawn Curran, said Bricker should have reported Curran's death request.
"That's what a real friend would do," she said, reading from a prepared statement and crying. "I find assisted suicide equivalent to murder."
Curran had two sons, she said.
Judge H. Thomas Padrick agreed with Dawn Curran, giving Bricker the maximum sentence -- 10 years -- with five suspended.
"No one has a right to take another's life," he said. " ... What kind of person does this?"
Bricker, his face flushed red and wet with tears, apologized to the Curran family before receiving his sentence. He is married with two young children, according to court testimony.
"I am deeply sorry," he said. "I wish I could take it all back."