The day after Christmas 1989, William Foust, a blind retired school engineer, shot his wife in the head. Then he called 911.
Foust gave the operator his address in Towson, told them his patio door was open, then said, "I just killed my wife. I am going to kill myself. There is a tape recorder on the table."
After he was sure the operator had the information, Foust hung up.
Minutes later, police found Foust, 69, of the 100 block of Kenilworth Park Drive, seated in his living room, a gunshot wound to his head and a pistol lying beside him. He was conscious -- and somewhat surprised.
"I didn't know that it took this long to die," he told police.
Foust was flown to the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore where he spent weeks in critical condition. He recovered.
Yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, about five blocks from his former home, Foust pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the death of his wife.
After hearing expert testimony from several psychiatrists that Foust was "not criminally responsible" for his actions last Dec. 26 because of "major depression," Judge Christian M. Kahl declined to send him to jail.
Under conditions set by the court, Foust will be under "conditional release" for five years and will continue to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis. As part of the release, his attorney said, Foust cannot use alcohol or other drugs.
Foust will live at his son's home in Havre De Grace, where he's lived since recovering from the gunshot wound, his lawyer said.
"He acted out of major depression and he snapped for the moment," explained Russell Smouse, Foust's attorney, summarizing the findings of defense psychiatrist Dr. Ellen McDaniel and two state psychiatrists from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center.
At the time of the incident, Foust's eyesight was further declining and his wife, Jean, 61, an alcoholic and diabetic who doctors had warned not to drink, had resumed drinking heavily.
She had refused to make preparations for the couple to leave Dec. 27 for a new home they had purchased in Daytona Beach, Fla.
A despondent Foust recorded his plans Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
"I have had it," he said. "I can't take any more of this terrible life I have been living. My wife is an alcoholic. She is now drunk, drinking, accusing. I don't know how to get ready to get our things to go to Florida. I can't go by myself."
"I have had it," Foust repeated. "I can't see. I am just damn tired of living."
At one point, Jean Foust apparently overhears her husband making the tape and says to him, "Nut." Then Foust says, "Oh, my wife just threw a cup of scalding coffee on me. . . . That woman is violent."
According to a statement of facts that was read into the court record yesterday, at the time of her death Jean Foust had a blood alcohol level of .39 percent, almost four times the legal limit for intoxication.