Court told of 'friendship' ring

Last updated 17:20 12/12/2013

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A ring seen on the finger of Helen Milner just over two months after the death of her husband was a "friendship ring", the man who bought it for her says.

Barry Hayton told the ninth day of 50-year-old Milner's murder trial that he had bought it for her at The Palms shopping centre on July 12, 2009, for $2299.

Her husband, Philip Nisbet, was found dead in his bed on May 4, 2009, and Milner is charged with his murder. The Crown alleges Nisbet was drugged and suffocated but the defence says the death was suicide.

Milner's defence counsel, Margaret Sewell, cross-examined Hayton, who had given evidence of forming a relationship with Milner after her husband's funeral.

He said he had not heard from Milner for more than a year before the death, but attended the funeral. The court was told of the exchange of texts that took place in the following weeks.

Sewell told Hayton that the ring had been referred to at the trial as an engagement ring.

He said it was a friendship ring. He and Milner had discussed marriage but he had not proposed to her.
Milner's details were on the purchase docket because of warranty considerations, he said.

Milner denies two charges of attempting to murder 47-year-old Mr Nisbet in April 2009, and murdering him the following month.

The jury asked a question about text messages in which Hayton had spelled always, as "allways", three times.

He said it was the way he normally spelt it, and explained he was partly dyslexic.

He was shown a suicide note that has been produced in evidence at the trial, which includes the word "allways".
He was asked by Sewell if he had seen the note before and if he wrote it. He said he had not seen, nor written it.
"There's words there I can't spell," he said.


Earlier, a medical expert testified for the defence that Nisbet was "very unlikely" to have taken Phenergan when he went to hospital on the day Milner allegedly attempted to murder him with an overdose of the allergy drug.

Nisbet was taken to Christchurch Hospital twice on April 15, 2009.

Professor Ian Whyte, a medical expert and defence witness, told the High Court in Christchurch that Nisbet's symptoms that day were consistent with a bite from either a katipo or white-tailed spider and "extremely unlikely" to be an overdose of Phenergan.

Nisbet thought he had been bitten by a spider two days earlier and had a mark on his leg and pain associated with it. Neither could be attributed to Phenergan, Whyte said.

The readings of Phenergan in Nisbet's blood would be at the lower end of reported fatal doses, but he agreed with pathologist Martin Sage's conclusion that Nisbet's death could be attributed to an overdose of the drug.

Asked whether Phenergan could be hidden in food and eaten, Whyte said it had a "very, very bitter taste" and "leaves a most unpleasant anaesthetic effect" in the mouth.

It would be difficult to disguise in food unless it was an extremely hot meal, like a vindaloo. Even then, flecks of the pills' blue outer casing might still be visible, he said.

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Under cross-examination from Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway, Whyte said an earlier episode where Nisbet took a tablet of Phenergan and slept for six to 13 hours "tells me that he is very sensitive ... and he crashes out when he has a 25-milligram tablet".

If he had been given an overdose of Phenergan on April 15, 2009, he would have fallen asleep.

Asked whether a Phenergan overdose was possible, Whyte said: "How possible do you want it to be? I think it's very, very unlikely.

"The symptoms felt or described are consistent with sedation of a drug, but the objective things written down in the [medical notes] ... don't fit."

Sage, who examined Nisbet's corpse, testified that he found 35 times more Phenergan in Nisbet's system than someone using the drug normally.

The level was still significantly lower than other recorded fatalities attributed to Phenergan, but Sage concluded the cause of death was the result of excessive ingestion of the drug.

Sage carried out an autopsy on Nisbet's body about 12.45pm on the day of Nisbet's death and concluded the time of death was at least eight hours earlier.

"[Nisbet] clearly died the previous evening," he said.

Sage found that Nisbet had no pre-existing health problems that would have contributed to his death.

Meat and vegetables were found in his stomach, but no Phenergan tablets.

Sage told the jury that he had examined about 400 people who had overdosed and it was rare to see any visible sign of drugs that had been ingested.

It was not possible to say how many Phenergan tablets Nisbet had taken, but the level of the drug in his system was excessive, Sage said.

An overdose of Phenergan restricted the flow of oxygen to the brain, he said.

In some cases, an overdose would stop a person breathing, causing death within minutes.

"If you want to kill yourself there are many medications that are more reliable ... and more readily available," Sage said.

He said it was possible someone who overdosed on Phenergan could be suffocated by someone using minimal force and without leaving any injuries.

Another expert witness gave evidence there was no alcohol found in Nisbet's blood after his death.

The evidence emerged during day nine of the trial today.

The Crown alleges Milner drugged Nisbet by mixing Phenergan with his food and then may have suffocated him while he was sedated.

It says she was financially motivated, partly by his $250,000 life insurance policy. 

- The Press

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