A prosecutor has alleged Barbara Mary Eckersley, 69, intended to kill her non-verbal and bedridden mother, Dr Mary White, when she fed her ‘green dream’, or pentobarbitone, in a soup at a southern NSW nursing home on 5 August, 2018.
In his opening statement in the trial of Ms Eckersley, Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr told jurors she had used ‘green dream’ to euthanise injured animals while involved in wildlife care in Canberra 20 years ago, and was unhappy about the level of care her 92-year-old mother was receiving at the Warrigal aged care facility in Bundanoon.
However, Ms Eckersley’s barrister, Kieran Ginges, argued Dr White, who was an award-winning Australian paleobotanist, could have died “at any time” from the severe heart disease she was diagnosed with or thrombosis – a type of blood clot – found in her brain during the autopsy.
Mr Ginges told the murder trial that Ms Eckersley denied murdering her mother, but has admitted administering the drugs to ensure Dr White wasn’t in pain or distressed while transitioning to a new aged care facility in Coffs Harbour, which had been arranged for two days later.
Ms Eckersley was also experiencing depression at the time of her mother’s death, which contributed to her belief that Warrigal was failing to manage Dr White’s condition, said Mr Ginges.
Facts tendered in the Supreme Court, sitting in Goulburn, stated that Ms Eckersley and her husband, Richard, had cared for Dr White at their Bundanoon home between 2014 and 2016.
Dr White was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2014 and experienced a major stroke in 2016 that paralysed one side of her body. She was subsequently admitted to Warrigal.
Mr Eckersley told jurors that staff at Warrigal told him and his wife they could help with Dr White’s pain but, two years later, she was “too often agitated or distressed”.
Shortly before Dr White’s death, a doctor at Warrigal told Ms Eckersley there was nothing more they could do to ease her mother’s pain.
Ms Eckersley and her husband visited Dr White most days at dinner time. On 4 August, 2018, Ms Eckersley fed her mother temazepam, which she had been prescribed for insomnia. Then on 5 August, she fed her mother pentobarbitone.
During a police interview on 7 August, Ms Eckersley denied giving her mother any drugs. However, on 8 August, she handed herself into Moss Vale Police Station out of fear her husband would be blamed for her mother’s death.
Mr Eckersley was with the accused on 5 August, but denied knowing about the drugs.
Giving evidence on Wednesday, 7 April, Mr Eckersley said “it was the shock of my life, I just couldn’t believe it” when his wife admitted what she’d done.
The Crown prosecution will argue the amount of pentobarbitone administered was in a range “considered to be toxic to fatal” and that Dr White’s doctor did not consider her to be an “end-of-life patient”.
Crown prosecutor Mr Kerr asked Mr Eckersley if he and his wife had discussed euthanasia before Dr White’s death.
Mr Eckersley, a euthanasia advocate, said they had but only in “general terms”.
Mr Kerr said the Crown didn’t dispute that Ms Eckersley had given Dr White the drugs out of “love and compassion, pain and sorrow”.
“People who usually take the lives of others are not usually nice people,” he said. “That is not Ms Eckersley. She was a loving, caring and compassionate daughter, and the Crown accepts that.
“But no matter the reason or intention of taking someone’s life is, according to our laws, [it’s] murder.”
In the coming days, jurors will hear from Warrigal staff, the police involved in the investigation and forensic pathologists who will explain how the drugs administered by Ms Eckersley work.
The trial continues.