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Court documents: Bettendorf man admitted he ‘smothered’ terminally ill brother

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 4:50 PM CDT
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BETTENDORF, Iowa (KWQC) - A Bettendorf man was arrested Tuesday after police say he suffocated his brother, who was terminally ill, in November.

Todd Alan Laing, 49, is charged with attempted murder, a Class B felony punishable by 25 years in prison.

He is being held without bond in the Scott County Jail. He has a preliminary hearing on Sept. 24.

According to an application filed in support of a search warrant:

At 4:49 p.m. Nov. 21, Bettendorf police were dispatched to a home for a suspicious death.

The person was identified as Ralph F.M. Laing II, 47, who was suffering from serious health issues. He had been discharged from a local hospital several days earlier with a terminal prognosis and was set up for in-home hospice care at a relative’s home.

Between Nov. 20 and 21, Ralph Laing’s condition deteriorated, and hospice nurses believed he would likely die on Nov. 21.

Various family members, including Todd Laing, came to the house to spend time with him. Family members told police they believed he had been drinking throughout the day and showed signs of intoxication.

Todd Laing, at one point, asked if he could have a moment alone with his brother in his bedroom.

One relative, who had been watching Todd Laing closely, stayed in the hallway just outside the bedroom with the door cracked.

The relative and other witnesses reported that Ralph Laing’s respirations had become noticeably raspy that day. The relative said as she stood in the hallway, she stopped hearing Ralph Laing’s raspy breathing and opened the door.

The relative said she saw Todd Laing sitting on the bed next to his brother and that both arms were extended with locked elbows.

His hands were overlapped, and he had placed his hands over Ralph Laing’s mouth, the relative said.

The relative began screaming at Todd Laing to get off his brother and forcefully pushed him from the bedroom. She and another relative then rendered aid to Ralph Laing.

While they were doing that, Todd Laing came back into the bedroom and, according to one relative, yelled, “I did what needed to be done. Ralph didn’t want to be like that.”

Ralph Laing died at approximately the same time. Todd Laing left the home and did not return.

Several attempts were made to contact him at his home. An officer spoke with him by phone that night and Todd Laing told him he would call him the next day but did not do that.

The officer spoke with him again on Nov. 23 and he said he needed to leave town for a few days but would be returning and would call him. The officer reported that he again did not call.

Police spoke with Todd Laing’s associate, who said he spoke with him the afternoon of Nov. 21 and “could tell he was drunk.”

The associate told police he texted Todd Laing on Nov. 23 and asked how he was doing. He was not aware that Ralph Laing had died.

The associate told police that Todd Laing immediately called him and said, “I smothered Ralph” and that his brother was dead. He further said that he could not stand to see his brother fighting for air, so he put his hand over his mouth, intending to end Ralph’s suffering.

Todd Laing further told him that he fled to Alabama, the associate told police.

Officers also spoke to another associate, who said during phone conversations, “You know I (suffocated or strangled) Ralph, right?”

He further told the person that he knew he messed up and things would never be the same, and added “I’m guilty of voluntary manslaughter,” according to the application for a search warrant.

First Assistant Scott County Attorney Amy DeVine said prosecutors filed the attempted murder charge against Todd Laing because “it does not require the element of malice aforethought,” which is required to prove first- and second-degree murder.

According to Iowa Code, “malice” is a state of mind which leads a defendant to intentionally do a wrongful act to the injury of another or in disregard of the rights of another out of actual hatred, or with evil or unlawful purpose.

Malice may be established by evidence of actual hatred, or by proof of a deliberate or fixed intent to do injury. It also may be found from the acts and conduct of the defendant, and the means used in doing the wrongful and injurious act.

“Malice aforethought” is a fixed purpose or design to do some physical harm to another which exists before the act is committed. It does not have to exist for any particular length of time.

“The facts of this case best fit the elements of attempted murder,” DeVine said in an email. “The elements are (1) doing any act which a person expects will set in motion a force or chain of events, (2) which he or she expects will cause or result in the death of another, and (3) with intent to cause death.”

Devine further said that a charge of voluntary manslaughter, a Class C felony, “does not apply from our review of the facts at this point because it required a provocation and sudden, violent passion.”

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