A woman who fed her non-verbal and bedridden mother barbiturates in a soup at a Bundanoon aged care centre on 5 August 2018 has been found guilty of manslaughter.
Barbara Mary Eckersley, 69, wiped away tears as the jury gave its verdict in the Supreme Court, sitting in Goulburn, following a three-week trial.
She remains on bail on a $20,000 bond until the court decides on her sentencing on Thursday, 20 May. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 25 years imprisonment.
Her barrister, Kieran Ginges, said he will be seeking a non-custodial sentence. Ms Eckersley has been on bail since her arrest two years ago.
Ms Eckersley’s brother, David White, said the jury’s verdict “could have been a lot worse” given his sister was accused of murder, but he didn’t wish to comment any further.
During the trial, Ms Eckersley told jurors she fed her mother, Dr Mary White, temazepam and ‘green dream’, or pentobarbitone, to reduce her pain and distress but never intended to kill her.
Mr Ginges also argued during the trial that Dr White could have died “at any time” from the severe heart disease she was diagnosed with or thrombosis – a type of blood clot – found in her brain during the autopsy.
However, the toxicology report, tendered in court, found the amount of green dream in the award-winning Australian paleobotanist and environmentalist’s system was lethal.
Ms Eckersley had openly expressed her concerns about Dr White’s care to Warrigal staff and Dr White was due to move to a new aged care facility in Coffs Harbour two days after she died.
Ms Eckersley told the jury how Dr White was often found by relatives in pain and distressed, sometimes having fallen from her bed or chair at the southern NSW nursing home.
“Daily care from the carers was good – they were always very gentle and careful with her,” Ms Eckersley told jurors. “My real problem was with the medications. I just felt, as we recorded in the book, there were many times she was not pain-free or agitation free.”
Entries made by Ms Eckersley in a book kept at her mother’s bedside, read during the trial, recalled multiple times when Warrigal staff took up to 50 minutes to respond to Ms Eckersley’s calls for help for her mother.
“Mary sitting upright, obviously in a lot of discomfort, possibly with wind. Called for a nurse and waited and waited for about 50 minutes,” the court heard Ms Eckersley wrote in the diary.
Another entry said: “Mary in bed looking awful, shaking, convulsing, called registered nurse.”
Ms Eckersley told jurors Dr White was a “very loving mother”.
During her career as a paleobotanist, Dr White worked for the Bureau of Mineral Resources analysing plant fossils, and she became a part-time curator of fossils at the Australian Museum in Sydney after her husband died.
Dr White became famous for writing several scientific books, including After the Greening: The Browning of Australia and Listen … Our Land is Crying.
Ms Eckersley produced the maps and diagrams in all but two of Dr White’s books.
“Our relationship had always been very good,” Ms Eckersley told jurors. “We worked very well together and enjoyed each other’s company.”
In 2003, Dr White moved to a property south of Port Macquarie where she rented cabins and hoped to run an environmental retreat.
However, by 2013, Dr White’s memory had significantly deteriorated and she said it was her wish to live with Ms Eckersley and her husband, Richard Eckersley.
In 2014, Dr White was diagnosed with vascular dementia and moved to live with the couple. In 2016, she experienced a significant stroke that impacted her speech and paralysed one side of her body. She subsequently moved to Warrigal.