A High Court jury has convicted Helen Elizabeth Milner of murder and attempted murder, four-and-a-half years after the death of her husband.
It rejected the defence claim that the May 2009 death of Philip James Nisbet, 47, was an act of suicide.
The 50-year-old Halswell woman appeared to slump briefly but reacted calmly when the jury announced its verdicts after deliberating for six-and-a-half hours since Wednesday morning. It found Milner not guilty on one charge of attempted murder.
Family in the High Court at Christchruch reacted with hugs, tears, and a cry of, “Yes”, as the guilty verdicts were announced.
The Crown had mounted a two-week case involving evidence from more than 70 witnesses, that Milner tried to kill her husband twice on April 15, 2009, with doses of the anti-allergy and sedative drug Phenergan. It also alleged that she had killed him with a further drug dose and then possibly suffocation as he lay sedated in bed on the night of May 3 to 4, 2009. It pointed to a financial motive – claiming Mr Nisbet’s $250,000 life insurance pay-out.
The defence said the death was a suicide, but the Crown attacked the validity of suicide texts and notes, saying they had been concocted by Milner herself.
Justice David Gendall remanded Milner in custody for sentence on February 20. He ordered a pre-sentence report and at the request of defence he also ordered that a psychiatric report be prepared on Milner.
The death and subsequent investigation led to deep and bitter divisions in the family, which surfaced during the trial.
The Crown brought together a circumstantial case which it said was strong, but defence counsel Rupert Glover told the jury it would be dangerous to convict Milner on the basis of such an “orchestrated body of tendentious evidence”.
The defence had strongly contested the first attempted murder charge where Milner was found not guilty. It pointed out that the Crown had claimed Mr Nisbet had been given a Phenergan overdose before he collapsed at work.
He had suspected he had been bitten by a spider or insect so ambulance officers gave him more Phenergan, and after that dose his vital signs returned to normal.
The younger brother of Mr Nisbet, Andrew Nisbet, spoke outside the Court House on behalf of the family.
He said the family thanked the jury for the verdicts, and thanked Detective Inspector Greg Murton for the work he had put in on the inquiry. He thanked friends and family for their support.
“Finally, some justice for our brother after four-and-a-half years,” he said. “We want to move on.”