A woman accused of killing her mother by mixing a lethal dose of a depressant drug into the 92-year-old’s food has gone on trial more than two years after her mother’s death.
- Barbara Eckersley is accused of murdering her mother — scientist Dr Mary White — at an aged care home in 2018
- Ms Eckersley denies intending to kill her mother, though says she suffered from a major depressive disorder at the time
- The jury was told they must determine if the drugs caused the death, if Ms Eckersley intended to kill her mother, and whether Ms Eckersley knew what she was doing was wrong
The alleged victim, Dr Mary White, was an acclaimed scientist who in 2009 was named a Member of the Order of Australia for service to botany research.
She lived with her daughter Barbara Eckersley from 2014, before suffering a stroke and moving to an aged care home in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, where she died in August 2018.
An autopsy uncovered toxic levels of the drugs, known as barbiturates, in Dr White’s bloodstream.
Her daughter, Barbara Eckersley, allegedly later told police she had fed her mother drugs to ease her “pain and discomfort” ahead of an upcoming planned transfer to a nursing home in Coffs Harbour.
Ms Eckersley allegedly acquired the barbiturates while working as a wildlife care volunteer in Canberra about 20 years earlier.
On Wednesday — more than two years after her mother’s death — Ms Eckersley faced the first day of a trial in Goulburn, having pleaded not guilty to Dr White’s murder.
In his opening statement, Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr told the jury murder was an “emotionally charged word” which “conjures images of violence, mayhem and death”.
He said Ms Eckersley was a “loving and caring daughter” but said she was facing trial for murder because she had no lawful excuse for her actions, which required planning and deception.
Eckersley denies intention to kill, says she suffered from depression
Mr Kerr said Ms Eckersley had not mentioned giving her mother the drugs when she was first interviewed about Dr White’s death.
It is alleged the day after she was interviewed— fearing her husband would be accused of wrongdoing — the couple went to Moss Vale Police Station where Ms Eckersley allegedly told officers “I helped my mother die”.
Ms Eckersley’s lawyer Kieran Ginges told the jury she denied any intention to kill her mother, and that they would contend she was suffering from a major depressive disorder at the time of the incident.
The trial is expected to hear from experts about whether the mental health condition impaired her ability to comprehend or control her actions.
Mr Ginges said there would also be evidence from medical experts about Dr White’s poor health in the months before her death.
He said Ms Eckersley and her family had ongoing concerns about the management of her mother’s treatment at the aged care facility which had prompted the planned move to the facility in Coffs Harbour.
The prosecutor said the jury would have to be satisfied as to whether the drugs caused Dr White’s death, if the mixing of them with her food was intended to kill her, and whether Ms Eckersley knew what she was doing was wrong.
It is not suggested that the inheritance of Dr White’s estate was a motivation for her alleged murder.
The trial is continuing.