An Unhappy Marriage Finally Ends
Kenneth Spargo was a religious man who regularly attended the Lake Ponds Baptist Church in Watertown in Connecticut. The 53 year old Spargo was not a drinker, never swore and kept to himself. He and his wife Priscilla, 44, lived in East Lyme and by 1984, they had been married for 22 years. The family included their son and daughter and a son from Priscilla’s prior marriage. The youngest was in college. Kenneth had a good job at Electric Boat in Groton, a submarine manufacturing division of General Dynamics. Priscilla had worked at one time for a local department store. To their neighbors in the small community all seemed well with the quiet family.
The truth was that Kenneth was convinced Priscilla was an adulterer who had run off to Oklahoma with Harry, a married parishioner from the same Baptist church. She left Kenneth the prior Christmas, something he didn’t mention to the neighbors until spring. Kenneth sued for divorce on the ground of adultery. Fearing she would lose the assets they had both worked so hard accumulate, Priscilla decided to contest the divorce settlement from Oklahoma through her Connecticut lawyer. Kenneth decided to buy a gun and began target practice behind his house. The Spargo home was no longer quiet.
On a warm May 24 in 1984, a proceeding in the divorce case was scheduled in the Norwich Superior Courthouse. Those in the courtroom were surprised to see Priscilla sitting with her attorney because she hadn’t attended any prior hearings. Before the case began, the gallery of 50 onlookers watched as Kenneth calmly got up from his seat and walked over to where Priscilla was sitting next to her attorney. He whispered something in her ear and she responded saying something inaudible to nearby observers. Kenneth then yelled, “You bitch”, stepped back three feet and pulled a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from under his coat. He shot Priscilla nine times in the chest and abdomen. Who needs target practice? Kenneth then dropped the gun and went to the back of the courtroom and sat down. He was placed under arrest without incident and escorted out of the courthouse by eight Norwich police officers. Reportedly, he had whispered to her that he wanted a reconciliation. We can only speculate as to what Priscilla told him.
The Norwich Superior Courthouse was new and only the third in the state to have a metal detector at the entrance. Authorities believe that Spargo had devised a method to fool the scanner or used an exit door inadvertently left unlocked for an hour. In either case, he entered the courthouse armed with the handgun and was prepared to use it.
Priscilla, who somehow survived the attack, was rushed to the William W. Backus Hospital, also located in Norwich. Barely clinging to life, the trauma team of ER physicians, a surgeon, nurses and respiratory therapists worked on her as she lay bleeding to death. Kenneth had emptied the full 9mm clip into her but managed to miss her heart and major vessels. However, the four bullets that entered her chest devastated her lungs. Some lobes were collapsed and those that weren’t ripped open by the bullets were being compressed by air rushing into her pleural spaces from outside her chest, the classic traumatic pneumothorax. The ER doc intubated her. A surgeon placed chest tubes. Nurses started intravenous lines and a respiratory therapist tried to keep her alive by bagging oxygen through the endotracheal tube and into what little was left of her lungs. The team rushed her to the OR but they lost the battle. The lethal combination of lung damage and blood loss from other organs was too much for her to survive and she soon died “on the table.”
Kenneth was charged with first-degree murder and at his bail hearing the State’s Attorney requested a $500,000 bond, arguing the man who Priscilla was involved with was in danger if Spargo was released on bail. Spargo’s attorney responded that the shooter could only afford $100,000. The judge, unmoved by the defendant’s financial plight, set Kenneth’s bond at $250,000. At a July 6 probable cause hearing a judge increased his bail to $350,000.
Jury selection for his trial on the murder charge was completed in New London Superior Court on a Friday in February 1985 and the case began the following Monday. Spargo’s defense was that he shot Priscilla while acting under extreme emotional disturbance. The trial then included the usual battle of experts testifying as to Kenneth’s state of mind when he gunned down Priscilla. The State Medical Examiner, who performed the autopsy, testified that any one of the wounds she suffered should have killed Priscilla on the spot and that he had never seen a case in which such carnage hadn’t resulted in immediate death. Witnesses testified that as he passed them on his way to the back of the courtroom after the shooting, Kenneth said, “Now I can sleep nights.”
Obviously believing his defense for killing his estranged wife, the jury found him guilty only of manslaughter. That offense was punishable for up to 20 years imprisonment and Judge Harry W. Edelberg sentenced him to that term with all but 12 years suspended and five years of probation. In other words, Kenneth would serve 12 years in prison for secreting a gun into the courthouse and shooting Priscilla nine times in front of 50 witnesses. As his good fortune would have it, he was later paroled after eight years with five years probation. Kenneth is in his eighties now and still lives in Connecticut. One must wonder if he indeed does sleep well at night. As reported by local media in Oklahoma City, Priscilla had returned there to start a new life and reunite with her sister, brother and then ailing father.
What makes this case interesting to me after 3 decades? I practiced as a Registered Respiratory Therapist for 20 years before moving on to a new profession. Early in my career I was employed by the Willaim W. Backus Hospital and working there on May 24, 1984. When called to the ER that day, I found Priscilla well along in her process of dying. I was part of the team that tried in vain to save her and bagged her there and on the way to the OR. It was no surprise that she didn’t make it off the table. She was the first shooting victim I had treated and I will always remember the crime that took place in that courtroom on a warm New England day in May and the “justice” afforded Priscilla in the following years.
Griff Palmer, NewsOK, May 26, 1984, “Reunited City Family Torn Apart as Court Appearance Ends Tragically,” accessed Oct 15, 2015, http://m.newsok.com/reunited-city-family-torn-apart-as-court-appearance-ends-tragically/article/2069514.
Karen Clarke, “Psychiatrist challenges defense on Spargo’s mental condition,” The Day, May 2, 1985, accessed October 15, 2015, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19850302&id=FjRHAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jPgMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5708,206931&hl=en.
“Murder trial begins,” The Day, February 12, 1985, accessed October 14, 2015, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19850212&id=hyVSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DDYNAAAAIBAJ&pg=4261,2350826&hl=en.
Thomas Farragher, “Man kills wife in Norwich courtroom,” The Day, May 24, 1984, accessed October 14, 2015, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19840524&id=HgsiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=23IFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3305,5203226&hl=en.
© 2015 M G Del Baglivo