Daughter convicted of mother’s manslaughter avoids jail time

Hannah Sparks 20 May 2021 17
Barbara and Richard Eckersley leaving court in Goulburn

Barbara Eckersley walks free from the Supreme Court with her husband, Richard. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

A woman found guilty of the manslaughter of her non-verbal and bedridden 92-year-old mother, Dr Mary White, at a southern NSW nursing home on 5 August 2018, has walked free from the Supreme Court sitting in Goulburn.

Barbara Mary Eckersley, 69, avoided the maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment and was sentenced to a two-year community correction order (CCO) beginning on 20 May 2021.

In handing down the sentence, Justice Robert Beech-Jones said the only options for sentencing were imprisonment or a CCO.

This follows the removal of intensive correction orders for manslaughter in the NSW Government’s September 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Package, a previously applicable sentence served in the community but under the strict supervision of Community Corrections.

The two-year CCO means Ms Eckersley will live freely in the community so long as she doesn’t commit any offences during the two years, appears before the court if requested, and sees a psychologist for her depression.

Justice Beech-Jones said Ms Eckersley was “overwhelmingly unlikely to re-offend” and had already spent nearly three years “haunted by her involvement with her mother’s death”.

Barbara and Richard Eckersley with their legal team

Barbara and Richard Eckersley and their legal team leaving court in Goulburn. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

An act of love, but not euthanasia

Throughout the court case, Ms Eckersley was portrayed as a doting daughter who had provided around-the-clock care for Dr White, an award-winning Australian paleobotanist, for two years at her Bundanoon home after she was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2014.

Ms Eckersley also visited Dr White nearly every day after she was admitted to the Warrigal aged care facility in Bundanoon following a major stroke that impacted her speech and paralysed one side of her body in 2016.

The court heard how Ms Eckersley was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder after taking care of Dr White and seeing her condition deteriorate at Warrigal.

This depression contributed to Ms Eckersley’s view that Warrigal was providing Dr White with inadequate care and her inability to recall feeding her mother the drugs until 8 August 2018 when she handed herself in to Moss Vale Police Station.

Ms Eckersley admitted she fed her mother temazepam and ‘green dream’, or pentobarbitone, in a soup, to reduce her pain and distress, but denied ever intending to kill her.

A jury found Ms Eckersley not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter following a three-week trial, during which a toxicology report, presented as evidence, showed the amount of ‘green dream’ in Dr White’s system was lethal.

Justice Beech-Jones said he believed Ms Eckersley had “convinced herself that she did not intend to kill her mother”.

He said Ms Eckersley had fed her mother ‘green dream’, a drug she used to euthanise injured animals while involved in wildlife care in Canberra 20 years ago, to “end her mother’s suffering by ending her life”.

However, he recognised Ms Eckersley’s ability to make sound judgements was impaired by the depression she was experiencing at the time of her mother’s death.

“This was not a well-organised killing,” said Justice Beech-Jones. “It was an act of love. It was also a product of impaired judgement.”

During the trial, Dr White’s doctors told jurors how Ms Eckersley and her husband, Richard, had discussed euthanasia during consultations, which the couple denied.

Justice Beech-Jones also disputed this evidence, saying there was no reference to those conversations in the doctors’ notes.

He said the case was not about euthanasia because Ms Eckersley had not made the decision to kill her mother because she was pro-euthanasia, but rather as an “act of despair”.

Justice Beech-Jones said he believed Ms Eckersley only decided to end her mother’s life on the day she fed her the ‘green dream’.

Dr Mary White

Dr Mary White was an award-winning Australian paleobotanist. Photo: Brett Dolsen.

A ‘loving’ mother

Ms Eckersley told the court Dr White was a “very loving mother”.

During her career as a paleobotanist, Dr White worked for the Bureau of Mineral Resources analysing plant fossils, and she became a part-time curator of fossils at the Australian Museum in Sydney after her husband died.

She became famous for writing several scientific books, including After the Greening: The Browning of Australia and Listen … Our Land is Crying. She was awarded four honorary doctorates.

Ms Eckersley produced the maps and diagrams in all but two of Dr White’s books.

“Our relationship had always been very good,” Ms Eckersley told jurors. “We worked very well together and enjoyed each other’s company.”

Speaking outside the court on behalf of Ms Eckersley, solicitor Adrian McKenna said the accused was “relieved to be walking out” of the court.

“She has made it through to the other side [and is] grateful to be moving on with her life,” he said.

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17 Responses to Daughter convicted of mother’s manslaughter avoids jail time
Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 8:27 pm 22 May 21

It is very hard to see a loved family member suffer, with no hope of recovery. I FEEL for this woman. My own Father, paralysed by a massive Stroke, asked me quietly to get him "something"., while in the nursing home, and I had to say " Dad I can't"! He did not ask me again, and has since died.

Jane Stubbs Jane Stubbs 5:45 am 22 May 21

I ask any of you to put yourself in her shoes. My daily routines are feeding, cleaning and changing a man who doesn’t know who I am. He would be horrified if he knew what was going on. He has been my father for a 56 years. I love him. There is no quality of life. Why is thus allowed to continue. It’s heartbreaking, soul destroying and no wonder we all fear death...,, so very wrong and inhumane.

    Kim Maree Hocking Kim Maree Hocking 8:02 am 22 May 21

    Jane Stubbs oh Jane so very sorry to hear this. I totally agree with you. This is no life for a loved one and it is heartbreaking as you say. Things have to change.

Karan Campbell-Davis Karan Campbell-Davis 12:03 pm 21 May 21

Unless you've watched a loved one endure years of pain and suffering, and/or the ravages of dementia reducing them to a zombie-like state, you're not in a position to judge this woman. And I hope for your sake, you never have to be...

    Sandie Scott Sandie Scott 12:23 pm 21 May 21

    Karan Campbell-Davis, my mum is in serious decline with this disease. In her place I would make the same choice. The mother I love is no longer the same person and my heart breaks each time I see her, I end up in tears. 😢

    Karan Campbell-Davis Karan Campbell-Davis 12:58 pm 21 May 21

    Sandie Scott I hear you. We're in the same boat. Between terminal bowel cancer and dementia, my mum no longer has any quality of life, and is now like a confused 7 year old child. I wonder what I will do, when her pain becomes unbearable... 😔

Acton Acton 11:09 pm 20 May 21

I hope that if or when I end up in a nursing home, suffering dementia, pains, incontinence, loneliness and all the many humiliations and indignities that there will be someone like Ms Eckersley who will care and love me enough to end my suffering, if voluntary euthanasia is still not available. My body, my life, my choice. Not yours.

Mitch Savic Mitch Savic 6:43 pm 20 May 21

This is why we need euthenasia.. for suffering old or terminal people whov already lived a full life and are ready to go on their own terms or at the familys disgression.. yes there should be a doctor present and a third party involved to make sure everything is legit and done with care and as the person or family has agreed to ❤ its only human to want the pain to stop for either yourself or someone you love dearly

Robyn Ahlstedt Robyn Ahlstedt 6:39 pm 20 May 21

Agree. Hope its an option if I ever need it.

Claire Cat Claire Cat 6:35 pm 20 May 21

Not sure why people are angry facing this? In the face of desperately inadequate assisted dying laws plenty of people have an agreement with their most trusted to make sure in the event of incapacitation, those most trusted will do what's been asked of them... To end life if that life is no longer how the person would ever want to exist in.

    Fiona Beryl Fiona Beryl 6:48 pm 20 May 21

    Unfortunately the laws as they currently stand in many jurisdictions do not allow this sort of action, and therefore it is illegal. If people are passionate about changing the laws surrounding voluntary euthanasia, they have to start becoming louder in their advocacy for change.

    Toni Cooper Toni Cooper 7:15 pm 20 May 21

    Fiona Beryl I’m not so sure being louder is going to help. Not with our Hillsong government

    Kristy Bryden Kristy Bryden 8:44 pm 20 May 21

    Claire Cat I'm not one of the people who angry faced the article, but I wanted to point out that the situation you describe was not the circumstances of this case. There was no agreement between them. It was something Barbara Eckersley decided to do on her own, as she admitted to during the trial.

    Claire Cat Claire Cat 8:59 pm 20 May 21

    Kristy Bryden oh I know there wasn't an agreement and I know what Mrs Eckersley said xx it's a really really tough case.

    Maybe Mrs Eckersley knew innately that her mother was suffering and her quality V quantity of life was no longer on comparison.

    I don't know what happened behind those doors. I do know that I feel great sympathy for everyone involved. I also know that if Australia got its act together and created a legislation that provided freedom for its people to choose their death.... That these kinds of cases would be non existent.

    Feona Baranowski Feona Baranowski 10:16 pm 20 May 21

    Toni Cooper interesting comment. I find Mr Morrison a total disappointment.

    Barbara Ingram Barbara Ingram 7:13 am 21 May 21

    Claire Cat likely to be older generations or those with family members with disabilities.

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