The Crown is asking for a minimum 18-year non-parole term as part of Helen Elizabeth Milner’s life prison term for murdering her husband.
Milner, 50, denied her guilt in the death Philip James Nisbet, who the Crown alleges she poisoned with an anti-allergy medication and then probably smothered as he lay unconscious in bed.
She was found guilty of murder and attempted murder at a trial in the High Court in Christchurch in December.
Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway said the evidence and verdicts showed that she had planned the poisoning and had then staged his death as a suicide. Because the murder involved calculated or lengthy planning, it meant an 18-year sentence was appropriate.
“It is rare for a victim to tell so many people of a desire to kill her victim, as she did in this case,” he said. Poisoning had always been seen as a pernicious form of murder, involving planning, subterfuge, against an unsuspecting victim.
He said Phil Nisbet had loved Milner and had strived to please her. He said if her motive had not been financial it was simply to get rid of a man who was no longer wanted in her life.
Defence counsel Rupert Glover argued that the case did not warrant the high non-parole term. He said there had been no lengthy planning or calculation by Milner, and there was evidence that she had not been aware that she was the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy until two weeks after his death.
He submitted that Milner’s comments about killing her husband – comments that earned her the Black Widow title among her work colleagues – were not meant to be taken seriously.
Milner appeared in the dock flanked by women prison officers. When the registrar made the usual inquiry as to whether there was any reason she should not be sentenced by this court, she replied, “No, ma’am.”
The court heard nine victim impact statements from family members.
Lee-Ann Cartier, of Australia’s Sunshine Coast, said she had an amazing relationship with her big brother, Phil Nisbet before Milner came into their lives. “Helen has taken away so many future memories we would have had.”
She had also taken years off her elderly parents’ lives, and taken away their father from Phil Nisbet’s two sons. “Rest in peace, Philip. You will always be my big brother.”
She told Milner the sentencing would allow her to “evict you from my head space until you come up for parole”.
Mrs Cartier’s twin daughters’ statement about the loss of their Uncle Phil was read to the court.
James Nisbet, Phil Nisbet’s 81-year-old father, who lives in Australia said his son’s untimely death had seen his own health and memory rapidly decline. He said she carried out the crime to start a new life with a new man and the health insurance money.
Phil Nisbet’s mother Yvonne Nisbet said the trial had been “horrible”. It had been heart-wrenching to her all the lies and deceit. She recalled Helen comforting her after her son’s death, knowing that she was the one who had killed him.
Andrew Nisbet said Milner had “robbed me of a future with my little brother”.
Adam Kearns, 23, the stepson of Phil Nisbet, said he had realised that his mother had killed his stepfather. Adam Kearns said he had spent 16 days in jail after Milner had got him wrongly convicted of a crime. The trial had been stressful and overwhelming. He had just started counselling, and was looking forward to moving on with his life and putting everything behind him.
The sentencing is proceeding in Christchurch’s main High Court before Justice David Gendall.