Police officers escort the Briton David Hunter, left, as he leaves the grounds of the courthouse complex after a trial on a premeditated murder charge in the death of his ill wife a year ago, in the south west coastal city of Paphos, Cyprus, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. A Cyprus court rejected a defense argument that a British man's confession to killing his ailing wife was unlawfully obtained because he was in no frame of mind at the time to speak to police without a lawyer present. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
PAPHOS, Cyprus (AP) — A Cyprus criminal court on Tuesday rejected a defense argument that a British man’s confession to killing his ailing wife was unlawfully obtained, because he was in no frame of mind to speak to police without a lawyer present.
David Hunter, 75, made the statements to law enforcement officials and medical staff on five separate occasions following his arrest “undoubtedly of his own free will” without pressure or coercion, the three-judge panel said in a unanimous ruling.
The court said it couldn’t accept testimony from a defense expert that Hunter suffered from “disassociation” following his wife Janice’s December 2021 killing at the couple’s retirement home in the coastal resort town of Paphos and wasn’t fully cognizant of what he was saying.
The court said that at the time of his arrest, he recalled to law enforcement officials and to his brother in the U.K. in detail how he smothered his wife, because he wanted to end her suffering and how he had subsequently consumed a mixture of pills to end his own life.
Those pills included medication for his 74-year-old wife who had myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer.
The judges said they had “no doubt” that Hunter understood and was aware of what he told law enforcement officials who informed him of his rights.
The ruling means Hunter remains on trial for premeditated murder after a plea deal on a lesser charge of manslaughter collapsed in December last year.
Defense lawyers have called Janice Hunter’s death a matter of euthanasia or assisted suicide, and argued for a sentence that doesn’t include prison time. They said Cyprus’ attorney general rebuffed what had been agreed were the facts of the case that would have sealed the plea agreement.
Michael Polak, a spokesperson for Justice Abroad, a group that defends Britons facing legal troubles in foreign countries, said defense lawyers would appeal to Cyprus’ Supreme Court to throw out Hunter’s confession because he didn’t “unequivocally waive” his rights to having a lawyer present when he was being questioned after his arrest.
“We were slightly surprised by the decision today on the grounds we submitted that the confession evidence should have been excluded,” Polak said after the trial’s adjournment Tuesday.
“Now, within the judgment of the court, we had a quick look through it, and they’ve said that in their findings there was no unequivocal waiver of the right to a lawyer … So there’s a very specific point of law, and we’re going to appeal this to the Supreme Court.”
State Prosecutor Andreas Hadjikyrou had said it was Hunter’s defense team that backed out of the plea deal. He said the prosecution won’t accept Hunter’s claim that his wife asked him to end her life unless he provides proof — either a written note or explicitly having communicated her wishes to the couple’s daughter.
The state prosecutor said that Cypriot authorities don’t want to set a precedent for any husband to kill his wife and claim after the fact that the killing was done with the wife’s consent.
The couple’s daughter, Lesley Cawthorne, was quoted in British media as saying that her mother had clearly conveyed her wish to die to Hunter.
Hadjikyrou had said defense attorneys turned down an earlier deal for Hunter to plead guilty to manslaughter. But Polak said Hunter’s defense lawyers remain “open” to any “suggestions” from the prosecution.
“It’s obviously a very sad case. It’s obvious David loved his wife a lot and cared for her a lot, they’ve been together for so long, so we’d say yes, we’re always open to any suggestions, but at the moment we’re going to be fighting for his rights,” said Polak.
NICOSIA - It's already been rejected by the occupying Turkish-Cypriot side, but Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said the European Union should help broker attempts to bring together the island split by unlawful 1974 Turkish invasions.
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