, Salem, MA

March 25, 2014

Judge: Husband wanted wife's death to look like a suicide


---- — BEVERLY — A Salem judge said he believes that a Beverly man was trying to make his wife’s attempted strangulation look like a suicide and has ordered him held without bail while he awaits trial.

Jefferson Purcell, 46, of 119 Essex St., is facing charges that include attempted murder and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in the incident, which took place in the couple’s apartment in January.

Purcell’s wife had fallen asleep watching television, she told police. She awoke to find Purcell standing over her with an electrical cord wrapped around her neck, sometime in the early morning hours of Jan. 5. After a struggle, she managed to break free.

Purcell was wearing gloves, she told police.

His lawyer, Randy Chapman, says Purcell was suicidal as a result of being unhappy in the marriage. And Purcell’s wife joined the defense in asking for Purcell’s release, believing he needs mental health treatment, not jail.

But Salem Superior Court Judge John Lu concluded last week that Purcell was actually trying to murder his wife and make it look like she had committed suicide.

That’s an inference that was not specifically argued by prosecutors.

In a two-page written decision released last week, Lu concluded, “Mr. Purcell performed searches for suicide on his wife’s cellphone before the strangulation in order to make it look like a suicide.”

The judge also rejected a defense expert’s conclusion that Purcell does not pose a risk of harm to others.

“This was far longer than momentary because she suffered major injuries, including petechiae (bleeding) in her eyes, redness to her neck and loss of consciousness,” Lu wrote. “She also urinated herself.”

“Mr. Purcell had been abusing a number of drugs and had had some alcohol that night, as well,” the judge wrote.

But while he acknowledged Purcell’s own reported suicide attempts (in which he sat in a running car in the garage with the door closed and a snowblower running nearby, and his thoughts about veering into oncoming cars on the highway), the judge concluded that he was also “profoundly unhappy with his marriage.”

The judge’s order means Purcell will remain in custody at Middleton Jail for up to 90 days.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.