PAPHOS, Cyprus (AP) — A Cyprus court on Friday found a British man who killed his ailing wife in their home guilty of manslaughter, saying that the prosecution didn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that the 76-year-old man committed premeditated murder.
In a unanimous decision, the three-judge bench said that David Hunter’s decision to suffocate his 74-year-old wife Janice as she was sitting in a recliner in December 2021 was a spur-of-the-moment decision: he snapped as he could no longer stand seeing her weeping in pain.
The court accepted witness testimony that Janice feared her blood ailment would develop into full-blown leukemia and had repeatedly pleaded with her husband to take her life because she didn’t want to share the fate of her sister who died of the disease.
Hunter attempted to take his own life by consuming a large amount of pills after doing something “he never before thought possible – closing his hands over his wife’s mouth and nose,” the court heard, but medical staff saved his life.
The court cited expert testimony that Janice Hunter suffered from myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer which “to a large degree” — as much as 45% — could turn into leukemia, although there was no proof that she had indeed developed the disease because no definitive tests were conducted.
But the court said both husband and wife believed that Janice would develop it because of her sister’s fate.
The court also accepted that the actions of David Hunter who “loved his wife and took care of her even under the most difficult circumstances without complaint” were motivated only to end her suffering and that Janice had repeatedly asked him to end her life.
David Hunter’s earlier assurances to Janice that he would help her fulfill her wish to end her life and not suffer any more didn’t indicate any premeditation, the court said.
The court will reconvene Jul. 27 for mitigation pleas before passing sentence. The decision means Hunter avoids a maximum life sentence that a premeditated murder conviction carries.
Michael Polak from Justice Abroad, a group that defends Britons facing legal troubles in foreign countries, said the ruling allows the court to hand down a suspended sentence which would be appropriate given the time that Hunter has already spent in custody.
He was detained immediately after his wife’s death, and has spent the intervening year and a half in prison, awaiting trial.
“This remains a tragic case. Janice and David were in a loving relationship for over 50 years and it is clear that David did what he did out of love for Janice upon her request,” Polak said in a statement.
“We strongly believe that no proper purpose would be served by David spending any further time within Nicosia prison.”
The prosecution said Cypriot authorities didn’t want to set a precedent for any husband to kill his wife and claim after the fact and without proof that the killing was done with the wife’s consent.
State prosecutor Andreas Hadjikyrou told reporters the Attorney General would examine the verdict with a view to filing an appeal.
He said a key point of scrutiny would be about proof the couple had indeed agreed for David Hunter to take his wife’s life, Hadjikyrou said.