Crown points to contrasting texts on night of death

Evidence of two contrasting text messages did not support Philip James Nisbet being suicidal at the time of his death, the Crown said in its closing address to the jury on day 12 of the trial of the man’s wife on a charge of murder.

During that evening, 47-year-old Mr Nisbet sent a text message to his son about returning a hoodie to him next day, and yet the defence claimed that hours later he took pills that ended his life and sent another text as a suicide note.

“That text and the suicide text don’t sit together well,” Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway told the jury in the High Court at Christchurch where Helen Elizabeth Milner is on trial on charges of murder and attempted murder.

“They are a matter of hours apart. One is full of life and love for his son, and what’s going to happen next morning, and the other is despondent, ‘Can’t go on’.”

The Crown has alleged that Milner sent the “suicide” text message to herself on Mr Nisbet’s cellphone.

He said Mr Nisbet’s panic disorder appeared to be under control. His hospital visits on April 15, 2009, the month before he died, indicated he was worried about being unwell and wanted to live. The Crown alleges Milner twice tried to kill him with Phenergan pill doses that day.

The Crown has alleged she poisoned him with Phenergan tablets in his food on the night of his death. It suggested that she suffocated him while he was sedated in bed. The defence says the death was a suicide.

Mr Stanaway asked the jury to consider when Mr Nisbet would have been able to write the various suicide notes. He did not have access to a computer and was not comfortable about using computers.

The defence was that he committed suicide by taking pills, when there was evidence that he did not like taking pills and had difficulty swallowing.

He said there was no doubt that it was a Phenergan-related death. He told the jury: “I don’t suggest that you get hung up with the issue of suffocation. The Crown says that poisoning was the substantial and contributing cause of death.”

Defence counsel Rupert Glover told the jury that the recorded 111 call after Mr Nisbet’s death showed “the real Helen Milner”. The Crown had called witnesses to say she showed no emotion at her husband’s death, and that she had the profile of “the black widow”, but the phone call was a powerful piece of evidence.

“Only an actress of the calibre of Meryl Streep could put on a performance like that,” he said. “The grief in that recorded phone call to the police is genuine.”

He said defence evidence showed that the couple’s marriage was not under the stress that the Crown claimed. After her husband’s death, Milner had been “sad but stoic”, which was in line with her upbringing.

He dismissed the evidence given by Milner’s son, Adam Kearns, about events on the day when the Crown alleged she attempted to murder her husband. The medical evidence showed that when Mr Kearns claimed to have seen Milner crushing up pills in the evening, the couple had already been at the hospital for some time.

“Adam’s evidence here, as elsewhere, is a pack of lies,” he said.

It did not add up that after making two attempts to poison her husband with Phenergan on April 15, 2009 – as the Crown alleged – Milner had then taken him to the hospital herself.

When an ambulance took him to the hospital that morning after a collapse for what Mr Nisbet believed was an insect of spider bite, they had administered 12.5mg of liquid Phenergan, and the records showed that his vital signs then returned to normal.

The Crown was claiming the collapse was a result of the first poisoning attempt by Milner.

Justice David Gendall will sum up tomorrow morning before the jury retires to consider its verdicts.

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