Helen Milner defence case begins

Last updated 15:22 16/12/2013

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Helen Elizabeth Milner's defence team is calling four witnesses after two weeks of Crown evidence alleging she poisoned and suffocated her husband.

Milner herself would not take the witness stand, defence counsel Margaret Sewell told the jury as the 11th day of the trial began in the High Court at Christchurch before Justice David Gendall.

Sewell said Milner, 50, had already given two statements to the police and had spoken on oath at the Coroner's inquest.

There had been some inquiries made after Milner's husband Philip James Nisbet, 47, died in May 2009. The defence says the death was a suicide but the Crown has charged Milner with murder, and attempted murder over an incident the previous month.

Sewell said the full police investigation took place in 2011, when many witnesses were asked for answers to particular questions two years after the death.

"You heard from a lot of witnesses, and they all sounded very much the same," she said.

The defence would call four witnesses. Sewell asked the jury to measure what the witnesses would say against the Crown evidence.

"We are hoping that you will use their evidence as a way of thinking from a different angle."

The defence witnesses will be Nisbet's work supervisor, a solicitor for the Milner couple, a real estate agent who knew the couple, and a long-time friend of Milner.


The supervisor, Lesley Joseph Kennedy, who was the distribution manager at the firm where Nisbet worked, said he telephoned Nisbet after an incident in April 2009 when he collapsed at work. Nisbet said he was feeling okay that evening, and could not understand why he collapsed.

The Crown alleged it was the day he had been poisoned with the anti-allergy drug Phenergan by Milner, and has charged her with attempted murder over the incident.

Kennedy said Nisbet became "quiet and kind of sullen" when he returned to work after that incident. His sense of humour was not there. It was unusual for him to be like that. He asked him about it twice, but both times he said he was okay.

Shown documentation, he said it was very strange for Nisbet to have left so many days of his driver's logbook incomplete about this period. "I can't understand why he didn't fill out his log book."

He said Nisbet was usually good at paperwork. There had been no complaints about it.


Lawyer Graham Coumbe said he did various legal work for the couple. They had signed an agreement relating to property sharing when they separated. He was surprised to hear, at the time of Nisbet's death, that they had still been living together.

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He was concerned about the tone of emails he received later from Nisbet family members, relating to the property, after Nisbet's death. He checked on one that had been sent to him by Milner, but found that it was not the original email that she had sent - it had sentences added.

Real estate agent Mark John Sutherland said he was engaged by Milner to sell the house in Halswell in 2010. He had previously met the couple several times. They had wanted to move from the area for a lifestyle change.

The property was taken off the market, but when it was back on the market later, he said he got "an unusual phone call" from Nisbet's sister, Lee-Anne Cartier, who accused Milner of having murdered Nisbet and said she had no right to sell the house.

He said a series of quite abusive text messages from her followed.


Wilhelmina Walsh, a medical receptionist, said she had known Milner for about 25 years.

She did not like Milner's husband, Nisbet, and did not socialise with him. She did not attend their wedding.

Milner had been upset about their separation, but the split had not been for long.

Walsh said she had gone around to see Milner after Nisbet's death and found her quite upset.

She was there when Milner's son, Adam Francis Kearns, visited.

She described his behaviour at times as nasty, horrible, and violent, and said he seemed to be concerned about what food he could take.

When she went to pick up Kearns at his address to take him to the funeral, she found him heating drugs on the stove.

He was unpleasant, verbally abusive, and accused her of helping his mother kill Nisbet.

Walsh said Milner was very sad but stoic at the funeral.

On a visit after that, she said Milner was having a discussion with her lawyer about the insurance.

Milner said it did not look as though she would get any money from it, because it was going to the estate and other family members.

Walsh said that Milner told her she loved her husband, and she never saw any sign of discord between the couple.

The defence completed its case during the afternoon.

The Crown and defence will present their closing addresses tomorrow, and Justice Gendall will sum up for the jury before it retires to consider its verdicts on Wednesday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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