2 August 2023

Murder accused withdraws bail application over alleged suffocation of Jean Morley

| Claire Fenwicke
Jean Morley

Jean Morley had been suffering from dementia in the year before her alleged murder. Photo: Supplied.

CONTENT WARNING: Some readers may find the details in this story distressing.

Donald Morley is expected to be discharged from hospital and transported to the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) after withdrawing his application for bail after being charged with murder.

The 92-year-old is accused of suffocating his wife Jean Morley in their Fisher home.

Her body was discovered by a nurse who was conducting a routine home visit to treat Mr Morley’s skin cancers on Monday (31 August).

In the ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday (2 August), Mr Morley’s defence lawyer Nathan Deakes said his instructions at this time were to withdraw the bail application made late on Tuesday (1 August).

Mr Morley himself appeared via video-link from his hospital bed.

He had previously been held under an emergency detention order at the Canberra Hospital, but since been moved from the ICU to a general ward.

“I’ve spoken with two registrars at the hospital … he’s been released from emergency detention,” Mr Deakes told the court.

He requested Magistrate Jane Campbell make the order for Mr Morley to be recognised as a “prisoner at risk” so he could receive protections in the prison.

“He will have a room segregated at the AMC whereby he will have a separate bed to everyone else and 24-hour monitoring,” Mr Deakes said.

“[It will be] a relatively safe place.”

Mr Morley was remanded in custody until 11 August, where his matter will be heard as part of the family violence list.

Mr Deakes agreed this would be appropriate.

“It is essentially a family violence matter,” he said.

When she formally refused bail, Magistrate Campbell described the matter as a “tragic, tragic situation”.

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According to the tendered statement of facts, Mr and Mrs Morley had lived in their Fisher home for more than 45 years, and had been married for almost seven decades.

Mrs Morley had been suffering from dementia for at least the past year.

A nurse had been scheduled to visit their home on Monday (31 July) and had tried to call ahead, but the phone wasn’t answered.

When she arrived at the home at about 2:30 pm, it’s alleged Mr Morley had appeared to be “sunken and quiet” as he let her inside.

The nurse noticed two handwritten notes on the dining table, one of which allegedly referred to suicide and forgiveness.

After asking Mr Morley about the notes and why he hadn’t answered the phone, it’s alleged he replied he had gone out in the morning.

“[The nurse] told the defendant that she was there to help, and the defendant shook his head and replied ‘I’ve done a terrible thing’,” the police statement alleged.

Police officer outside the Morley's home

Police were called to the Morleys’ Fisher home by the nurse who discovered Jean’s body. Photo: ACT Policing.

It’s alleged Mr Morley admitted to the nurse he had “suffocated her with a pillow” the night before, and had then made multiple attempts on his own life.

Before leaving the room, Mr Morley sat next to his wife on the bed and said “That’s her there, my angel”.

Police arrived just before 2:50 pm after being called by the nurse, arresting Mr Morley a few minutes later.

Paramedics also arrived to treat Mr Morley and transport him to the Canberra Hospital under powers to detain him for a mental health assessment.

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When police examined the home, they stated they found the notes seen by the nurse.

“The note read ‘Please don’t call this murder-suicide. After 69 years married we were both afraid of the future’,” it’s alleged.

“Sorry to upset all our family + friends this wasn’t easy for me, especially my darling,” the note continued.

Mrs Morley was officially declared dead by a forensic medical officer at 1 am on Tuesday (1 August).

Police have previously stated they were investigating “any conversations or incidents” that may have occurred in the lead-up to her death.

If you or someone you know is in mental distress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000).

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