A San Luis Obispo jury will decide the fate of a former Morro Bay resident accused of strangling and then drowning his wife of roughly 20 years and trying to make her death look like suicide.
James Victor Lypps, 66, is accused of murdering 62-year-old Sherre Neal Lypps, whose body was found in her bathtub in June 2009.
The three-week San Luis Obispo Superior Court trial came to a close Wednesday with both sides presenting their final arguments. Lypps’ attorney, Matthew Guerrero, argued that Neal-Lypps, depressed and suicidal, took her own life while Lypps was out for coffee and groceries.
Guerrero noted several discrepancies in prosecution witnesses’ testimony and written reports. He told the jury that the Morro Bay Police Department, which investigated the case, bungled it and investigators never considered whether Neal-Lypps’ history of mental and physical illness contributed to her death.
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“They became slaves to their assumptions,” Guerrero said. “They wanted to make an arrest.”
San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Greg Devitt argued that Lypps, long abused by his ailing wife and desperate to avoid foreclosure on the couple’s home, “snapped” and attempted to strangle Neal-Lypps. When that was unsuccessful, he drowned her in a tub containing roughly 6 inches of bathwater, Devitt said.
“He’s somebody who was in over his head, who’s in a loveless marriage. ... They’re over their heads financially. That’s enough to push somebody over the edge,” Devitt said. “He reached his breaking point.”
The Coroner’s Office ruled the cause of death as strangulation and drowning.
More than two dozen witnesses testified during the trial, including medical experts who ruled out suicide as cause of Neal-Lypps’ death, and defense witnesses who told of Neal-Lypps’ long struggles with physical pain, depression, suicidal thoughts and drug-seeking behavior.
She had been placed on an involuntary mental health hold two months prior to her death, witnesses testified.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Lypps faces 25 years to life in state prison.