When I met the murderer he hadn’t murdered anyone yet. He was a physician, a respected member of society that most mothers still want their daughters to marry. He was thin, a bit awkward with dark helmet hair and shiny skin. I later learned, as we all did, that his glow was caused by birth control pills, at about the same time we learned about his cross-dressing, shortly after we learned that he shot his wife in the stomach with a shotgun.
At the time we met though, I did not know this would happen. I could not see it. I am not perceptive. I never see these things. Or rather, I don’t look. I don’t take in the world and measure it. I don’t make judgments. I take and accept the surface – what is exposed. I thought he might be nervous and sweating. Birth control pills, cross-dressing and nascent murder did not enter my mind.
Boston Herald, January 6, 2009, Michelle McPhee, Joe Dwinell, Jessica von Sack.
The cross-dressing Harvard-educated millionaire dermatologist who murdered his wife in their North Shore home in 2000 was found dead in his cell at MCI-Norfolk last night after he hanged himself, prison officials tell the Herald.
Dr. Richard Sharpe – who was also charged with hatching a plan to escape from jail shortly after he was charged with murder – was found in his cell at 7:26 p.m. last night, said Department of Correction spokeswoman Diane Wiffin.
Wiffin said Sharpe, who blasted his wife in the chest with a shotgun, hanged himself with a bedsheet.
According to a prison source, a correction officer had just made the rounds past Sharpe’s cell and had delivered mail to him about an hour earlier. Sharpe’s cellmate was out of the room when Sharpe knotted his bedsheet to the top of his bunk and around his neck, the source said.
Sharpe was taken to Norwood Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 8:11 p.m. last night. The suicide is now under investigation by DOC, Wiffin said.
Wiffin added the death triggered a full emergency medical response by the guards at the medium-security prison in Norfolk.
The Sharpe story garnered national headlines after it was revealed that the dermatologist was a cross dresser who made a fortune opening laser hair removal centers. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 2001 and attempted suicide within months of his incarceration.
He was temporarily sent to Bridgewater State Hospital, a prison for the criminally insane, but has been in general population at MCI-Norfolk for years, the source said.
A Norfolk Superior Court jury acquitted him in 2007 on charges he tried to hire a prison hitman to kill Robert Weiner, a former assistant district attorney. Prosecutors alleged Sharpe believed that having Weiner killed would increase his chances of overturning the murder conviction on appeal.
At the time I met Richard Sharpe he was the dermatologist on a series of medical malpractice tribunals. I was the attorney on the tribunal. In Massachusetts each medical malpractice case must be reviewed by a tribunal to determine whether the plaintiff’s offer of proof presents evidence which, if substantiated, raises a legitimate question of liability for judicial inquiry. The tribunal, as the name suggests, is made up of three members – a judge, a lawyer and a medical practitioner in the same field as the defendant. The clerk generally groups tribunals once a month on a given day. The judge and lawyer remain all day, the medical member changes according to the nature of the case. By statute the lawyer and medical professional get $50.00 a case. I signed up for the tribunals after an Offer of Proof I drafted had been found insufficient, but then overturned on appeal. I vowed to spare others that experience and, at the time, I needed the money. The monthly tribunals were a good gig. Besides I got to hobnob with the judges which is always useful. I didn’t know then that Sharpe was a millionaire. Was his service altruistic? I have no idea.
When the story broke and his picture was in the paper, my first thought was “Oh, my god, I was on a tribunal with him.” I called Mary, the tribunal clerk, at Salem Superior Court and asked, “Is this guy who killed his wife the same person as . . . .”
“Yes, and now I need another dermatologist. He was my only dermatologist and they aren’t easy to get, you know.” Everyone has priorities.
The judge on the tribunal had been Judge Brady. He was old. Even though in Massachusetts the mandatory retirement age for judges is 70, Judge Brady looked older. He was the type of person you think must have died of old age until you see them again. (I think he is dead now, but he could surprise me.)
That day the set of dermatology tribunals consisted of two or three cases. One was about a woman who kept pulling out her hair. I remember Sharpe being careful, indecisive and shiny. He was soft-spoken and seemed nervous. Judge Brady took charge and we got through them. We deliberated in the judge’s chambers. When the set ended Sharpe left and Judge Brady and I were alone. He asked what I thought of Sharpe. I remember thinking that this was an odd question, as we usually don’t talk about members when they have left. Ever diplomatic, knowing which side my bread was buttered, I would not speak ill of a tribunal member to a judge. I may be oblivious, but I’m cautious by nature. Was this a test? I’m generally deferential except when it comes to issues of law. Then I analyze and speak my mind. My impression of a person I just met and will likely never meet again, however, is something I keep to myself. I made noises about “a bit indecisive” and “seemed nervous.” I may have mentioned shiny, as this attribute was overwhelming my mind. Judge Brady nodded at my assessment and said, “He’s a FREAK.”
I don’t know what he saw. I did not ask, “What makes you say that?” I remember the shock and thinking that was the strangest comment I had ever heard a judge say about anyone. At the time, I thought a little less of Judge Brady. I did not know then that his strong reaction was precise and astute. I wonder if even Richard Sharpe knew then.