Helen Milner appeal decision reserved

03:10, Jul 10 2014
Helen Milner

Helen Milner's lawyer accepts the circumstantial evidence that led to her being convicted of murdering her husband was "very strong".

However, the Crown had not faced up to the real issue, Rupert Glover told the Court of Appeal in Wellington this morning.

No-one could explain how Milner – dubbed the "Black Widow" – added the fatal dose of crushed Phenergan to her husband's dinner without him being able to taste it, Glover said.

Milner, 50, was last year found guilty of poisoning Philip James Nisbet, 47. He was found dead in bed at the couple's home in Halswell in May 2009.

She was also found guilty of attempting to murder Nisbet about a month earlier.

In February, Milner was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years – one of New Zealand's toughest jail terms for a female killer.


An appeal against her conviction was heard by Justice Ellen France, Justice Tony Randerson and Justice Rhys Harrison at the Court of Appeal today. They have reserved their decision.

Nisbet's Australian-based siblings, Lee-Anne Cartier and Andrew Nisbet, and Milner's sons, Adam and Greg Kearns, were at the hearing.

This morning, Glover pointed to evidence given by Professor Ian Whyte, a defence witness at the trial, who said blood tests taken after Nisbet's death suggested he had ingested between 14 and 233 Phenergan tablets.

However, there was a 90 per cent probability that he took about 45 pills, according to Whyte's evidence.

Tests carried out by police showed that Nisbet would have tasted the drug even if only 14 pills were added to his food, Glover said.

There would also have been an "pronounced anaesthetic affect" in his mouth, he said.

"They [the jury] could not have accepted that Mrs Milner had administered the drug without him knowing that."

Crown lawyer Mark Lillico said it was "scientifically dangerous" to try to predict how many pills Nisbet had taken.

People processed toxins differently, Lillico said.

There were many different strands to the Crown case, including forged suicide notes, purchases of Phenergan with fake names, and testimony from Milner's son, who saw her crushing pills and putting them in to capsules, Lillico said.

Lillico did acknowledge that on occasion, scientific evidence could overcome a circumstantial case, but this was not one of them, he said.

Outside court Glover said: "Nobody has been able to explain how she [Milner] could get that sufficient dosage of pills into him without his knowing and it's more logical that he took them himself voluntarily in the quantities suggested by the scientists.

Asked how Milner was doing in prison, Glover said: "Nobody is happy being where she is and she feels she's been unjustly convicted. It's understandable I think."

Nisbet's brother Andrew said Milner was "clutching at straws" and the appeal was a waste of time. "It's very stressful for the family again to be here and going through it yet again."

His sister Cartier said there was "nothing there" and the appeal was a joke. "It's just another waste of taxpayer's money."

Cartier said it was important family attended the hearing to show Milner "that every time she sticks her stupid little head up that we're going to be here to bop it back down."

"We're not going to take this rubbish. How many guys have the guts to tell their wife that tea tastes like s...? Most guys just shut up and eat it, don't they?"

Earlier this year, Cartier rejected an offer from police that would have resulted in her being reimbursed for some of the costs she incurred trying to expose Milner's actions.

Her lawyer later filed a claim with police for tens of thousands of dollars but it was yet to be resolved, she said.

"As the police said, it's something that will be discussed over time and obviously they've got all the time in the world.

"I just hope they resolve it while my parents are still alive for me to repay all the money I owe them over it."

An internal police report said Milner may have got away with murder had it not been for the sleuthing of Cartier and the keen eye of a coroner.

It said detectives made basic errors during an initial investigation that concluded Nisbet committed suicide.

After a coroner found no evidence that the delivery driver intended to kill himself, police launched a homicide investigation.

Milner was arrested in October 2011.

The Crown said she likely mixed the drug Phenergan with her husband's dinner and then may have suffocated him once he was sedated. She then manipulated the scene and fabricated a suicide cellphone text and suicide notes.

The jury at last year's murder trial also heard that Milner tried to kill him in a similar fashion about a month earlier. In both instances she was motivated by his $257,000 life-insurance policy.

Milner's defence said Nisbet's death was suicide.

The Press