Obsessed with money, Helen Elizabeth Milner allegedly discussed hiring a hit man to kill her husband before she poisoned him and tried to make his death look like suicide.
The Christchurch woman was unhappy in her marriage, spending beyond her means, concerned she would lose half her house in a divorce and wanted to cash in on his $250,000 life insurance policy, a court has heard.
Philip James Nisbet, 47, a truck driver, was found dead in bed at the couple's Checketts Ave home in Halswell on May 4, 2009.
Two empty packs of Phenergan - a drug often used for treating allergy symptoms - were found next to him in a bedside drawer.
A message sent to Milner's phone said: "I'm sorry honey, I can't keep going like this . . ."
Police initially believed his death was suicide and referred the matter to the coroner.
However, after an inquest, they launched a homicide investigation and Milner was arrested in October 2011 and charged with his murder and attempted murder.
Milner, 50, pleaded not guilty to the charges during the first day of a three-week jury trial in the High Court in Christchurch yesterday.
Details of the alleged murder were previously suppressed.
The Press can now reveal that the Crown believes Milner bought Phenergan using false names and addresses, and used it to poison her husband.
It was likely that she mixed it into Nisbet's food the night before his body was found and may have suffocated him once he was sedated, the jury heard.
Milner then allegedly tried to cover her tracks - manipulating the scene, fabricating three suicide notes and telling people that Nisbet killed himself because he had discovered his son was not his biological son, which is untrue.
Crown prosecutor Kathy Basire said Milner had been caught out by a web of lies.
Although authorities were initially deceived into thinking Nisbet's death was suicide, by the time the matter reached a coroner's inquest there were doubts about how he died.
Milner married Nisbet in 2005. She knew her husband had a bad reaction to Phenergan, which was used as an anti-histamine or a sedative, Basire said.
The Crown believed that Milner poisoned him twice with the drug 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.
Less than a month later, she allegedly made another attempt at killing him and succeeded. A non-suicide clause in his $250,000 life insurance policy had expired in February.
After calling police to say she had found her husband dead in bed, she had waited until 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 phone the night before.
It also alleges that Milner later showed family members a typed suicide note that she said she found, with a handwritten signature at the bottom.
After someone pointed out that it did not look like Nisbet's signature, she produced another note with a typed signature for police.
Basire said Milner had previously offered her son, Greg Kearns, $20,000 from the insurance money if he would get rid of her husband. The son declined.
She also discussed with her other son, Adam Kearns, the possibility of hiring someone to kill him.
A workmate of Milner's from 2006, Chantelle Allen, said the
accused killer had told her that she believed her husband was having an affair. Milner told her via email that she had no respect for him.
Allen said she got a text telling her of Nisbet's death. Milner told her that Nisbet had a sleep disorder, and had seen a doctor to get medication. She believed his death was connected with the disorder.
Lynette Maynard hired Milner as an office assistant at Christchurch-based GSL. She told the jury that the accused killer was "a little bit obsessed" about money.
After Nisbet's death, Milner insisted that it was not suicide and that he suffered from a rare form of epilepsy, Maynard said.
She confirmed that Milner had been convicted of theft as a servant while she was employed at GSL.
Another former colleague, Daphne Bennett, said Milner, a diabetic, told her that she thought Nisbet was trying to poison her by mixing sugar in with her food.
It also emerged yesterday that Milner had previously pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice after sending abusive text messages to herself and her son's former partner, pretending they were sent by her son, Adam.
- © Fairfax NZ News
What would make you feel safer about cycling in Christchurch?Related story: Student's death 'so bloody sad'