Woman on trial for murder by medicine

04:12, Dec 02 2013
Philip Nisbet , left, and Helen Milner
MURDER TRIAL: Philip Nisbet, left, and Helen Milner, cut from a family photo taken in late March 2009.

A 50-year-old Christchurch woman was caught out by her own web of lies after she drugged and probably suffocated her husband, and claimed he had committed suicide, a court has been told today.

"She was unable to maintain a consistent story," said Crown prosecutor Kathy Basire as she opened the case against Helen Elizabeth Milner, who denies charges of attempted murder and murder of her husband, Phillip James Nisbet, who died in May 2009.

Milner's three-week trial began today before Justice David Gendall and a jury in the High Court at Christchurch. The Crown will call evidence from 72 witnesses.

The Crown alleges Milner bought drugs from pharmacies under false names, fabricated three suicide messages by her husband, and made up a story about the cause of his suicide - telling people falsely that tests showed Nisbet's son was not his biological son.

Basire told the jury of Milner's alleged lies during an opening address in which she claimed the woman had been unhappy with her husband and her marriage, and had wanted to claim an $250,000 insurance policy on her husband's life.

The policy's non-suicide clause had expired a few weeks before the death.


Basire said Milner and Nisbet had married in 2005. She was an office worker while he was a truck driver.

By 2009 she was concerned that if they separated, she would lose her half interest in the house.

She alleged that Nisbet was living beyond his means and spending her money, but inquiries showed it was actually the other way around.

The Crown alleges that Milner knew her husband had a bad reaction to the drug Phenergan, which was used as an anti-histamine or a sedative.

Basire detailed three purchases of the drug at pharmacies where details were recorded. In each case, the purchases were made by a woman who paid cash, and gave a false name and address, or details linked to Milner or someone she knew.

In each case, Milner's bank card was used in other shops or ATMs in the area of the pharmacies about the time of the purchases.

Milner said that after calling police to say she had found her husband dead in bed, she had waited till they arrived, and turned on her cellphone to receive a suicide-note text message from him.

The Crown alleges that she had sent it from his cellphone.

It also alleges she showed family members a typed suicide note that she found later, with his signature.

When Nisbet's sister said it did not look like his signature, she produced another note with a typed signature, which she handed to the police.

The Crown case is that she drugged him twice with the pills on or about April 15, 2009, but he recovered.

She had hoped that he might die, or have a crash during his work as a driver.

On May 4, 2009, the Crown alleges she fed him a stronger dose with his evening meal and then suffocated him while he was sedated.

She then lied about how he was upset to learn that his son was not his biological offspring, which was not true. Milner also falsely claimed her husband had a sleep disorder and was worried that he would have to give up his job.

Basire told of Milner offering her son $20,000 from the insurance money if he would get rid of her husband. The son declined.

Nisbet showed no signs of difficulty or depression on the weekend of his death, when he spent time with his son.

Basire said: "The Crown says both [typed suicide notes] are complete frauds written by the defendant to explain why an otherwise happy and reasonably content 47-year-old man would choose to take his own life."

Basire said the defence case would be that it was reasonably possible that Nisbet had taken his own life.

She said family members would give evidence of being told differing and inconsistent stories by Milner about how  Nisbet had died.

She said it was a circumstantial case, but such cases could be overwhelming when the "combined threads" were put together.

"The Crown says this is an overwhelming circumstantial case," she told the jury.

A workmate of Milner's from 2006, Chantelle Janine Allen, said Milner had told her that she believed her husband was being unfaithful.

They stayed in contact after Milner left the firm, and emails were read out describing Milner's relationship issues with Nisbet.

She said she had no respect for him, and was concerned about the situation he had put them in.

The woman said she got a text telling her of Nisbet's death.

Milner told her that had had a sleep disorder, and had seen a doctor to get medication. She believed his death was connected with the disorder.

A work colleague at another firm, Lynette Marie Maynard, said Milner often spoke of her private life.

She commented that she had arranged with her lawyer that if her marriage split up, her husband would not be entitled to any part of the house.

Her attitude to her husband fluctuated, but she was usually critical and complaining about him.

She had seemed "a little bit obsessed" with money.

The Press