An Arizona man who faced up to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing his ailing wife was given unsupervised probation yesterday in a ruling the judge described as one that "tempers justice with mercy."

George Sanders, 86, shot his wife after she allegedly pleaded with him to do so after decades of living with multiple sclerosis. Sanders, who was her sole caregiver, had devoted his life to taking care of his wife, but his own health had deteriorated in recent years. His wife, Virginia, was due to be admitted to a nursing home when he took her life.

Family members advocated for leniency in the sentencing. "I fully believe that the doctor's visits, the appointments, the medical phone calls and the awaiting hospital bed led to the decision that my parents made together," their son told the judge. "I do not fault my father."

The Sanders had moved from Washington state to Arizona in the early 1970s, as the conditions were better for Ms. Sanders' condition.

George Sanders told the judge, "Your honor, I met Ginger when she was 15 years old and I've loved her since she was 15 years old. I loved her when she was 81 years old." He continued, "It was a blessing, and I was happy to take care of her. I am sorry for all the grief and pain and sorrow I've caused people."

The prosecutor in the case asked for the sentence of unsupervised parole, stressing the uniqueness of the situation. "I don't know where our society is going to go with cases like this, judge," he said. "At this point in time, what Mr. Sanders did was a crime."