An 88-year-old Navy veteran who fatally stabbed his wife over the summer appeared confused when his bail hearing concluded yesterday in Delaware County Court, as if unsure of what had happened.

Two sheriff's deputies helped Ernest Rayfield out of his chair and carefully turned him around to face his family in the courtroom gallery. It was an incongruous image: the frail, elderly man dressed in a killer's red prison jumpsuit.

"See you in a little bit," said his son, Paul. "It's all good, Dad, it's all good. You're coming home."

"OK," Rayfield eventually replied.

Judge James Nilon yesterday ordered that Rayfield, who has admitted to stabbing his 87-year-old wife inside their Springfield home, be released to the custody of his son in West Chester while awaiting his Feb. 22 sentencing for voluntary manslaughter.

Rayfield, a respected township resident who worked at Scott Paper for more than 30 years, had been imprisoned without bail since August because he was charged with first-degree murder. But the murder charge was dropped last week when he pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of manslaughter, making him eligible for bail. He has no prior arrests.

"We're happy," Paul Rayfield said of his father's release from jail, declining to comment further.

Ernest Rayfield killed his wife, Mary Agnes, who had Alzheimer's disease, in their bedroom Aug. 29 and covered her with a blanket. Rayfield, who had been caring for her, said afterward that he "couldn't take it anymore" and that he'd "had enough," according to police. When officers arrived, he was kneeling over his wife's body.

Nilon set Rayfield's bail at 10 percent of $100,000 and ordered that he be monitored around the clock. Assistant District Attorney Michael Dugan requested that he "never be left alone," and the judge agreed. No firearms will be allowed in the house.

With Christmas approaching, "my greatest concern is that Mr. Rayfield might hurt himself," Nilon said.

The Rayfields had been married for 63 years.