18 Oct 2019

Elderly man who survived suicide pact discharged

4:51 pm on 18 October 2019

An 86-year-old man convicted of being party of a suicide pact with his wife has been discharged.

The elderly man had pleaded guilty to taking part in a suicide pact in August, a crime that could have seen him sent to prison for up to five years.

He and his wife had been married for 23 years when they decided to take their lives on 5 April 2018 at their home in Palmerston North, but only he survived.

Judge Geoff Rea said a conviction and discharge was appropriate because there was no risk of reoffending.

Following his sentencing in Napier District Court, the man's lawyer Cam Roberts said the incident had been profoundly distressing to both families.

According to a summary of facts, the couple prepared "a number of typed and handwritten documents detailing their intentions and affairs" and addressed these to the police, the coroner and their children.

The man, who turned 86 last week, also placed a letter outside a neighbour's house with the intention of him finding it the following morning.

At 7:30am the next morning police were called to the couple's address by the neighbour after finding the letter.

Police entered the house to find the couple lying on a bed together. The man was still breathing but his wife was dead.

The man later moved to Napier where he was charged with being party to a death pursuant to a suicide pact, under the Crimes Act.

He pled guilty immediately and made no statement to the police, Judge Rae noted.

Crown prosecutor Cameron Stuart said this was not a "mercy killing".

"Nor is it an assisted suicide. It has no relevance to the euthanasia debate. Yes, they were elderly and had some health problems, but not anywhere near the limits of human endurance.

"This was pre-empted and researched."

Reading a victim impact statement, the couple's daughter said her family was "horrified" and "shocked" to have learnt of the suicide.

"We are devastated there are so many layers to the circumstances of this. It's not just a simple bungled suicide death but one that was planned over a long time.

"Another question - why didn't you mum get help if mum had suicidal thoughts?

"You get help, you don't [do this]," she told the court.

Mr Robertson said there was a sad irony in the case.

"Had the defendant died, the law would not have been broken."

"The police investigation was thorough and no evidence of foul play detected. This was an elderly couple who made a decision to die together and one was not successful. There is nothing sinister here, it is just very sad for all concerned."

Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Sheridan said it had been a challenging case for the investigation team, and paid tribute to the victim's family.

"Their strength as a family and commitment to honouring their mother, grandmother and great grandmother has been resolute."

A statement released from the family said they were devastated by the death of their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, but that she did not have a terminal illness at the time of her death.

"Mum was an intelligent and strong woman who fought hard in life to raise a family and gain an education."

They said she was their role model and a great source of wisdom and encouragement.

"Every day we miss our mum and struggle to understand how she could have been taken from us in such a horrible way.

"Mum did not have any terminal illness. She had been unwell and in hospital for a few days but was recovering well and growing stronger by the day.

"We had absolutely no idea that our mother was in any way contemplating suicide and the shock of what happened was just beyond belief."

The family said they were haunted by the manner of her death.

"As a family we are strong and we will remain strong as we remember Mum and all the good times we had."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.