A British pensioner charged in Cyprus with the premeditated murder of his terminally ill wife says he is “desperate” to have his day in court ahead of the trial opening on the island.
David Hunter is due to appear before an assize court in the coastal city of Paphos on Monday, almost nine months to the day after he admitted smothering his 75-year-old spouse, Janice, to death. .
“He is 76 and is desperate for the case to be heard,” said Michael Polak, a barrister at the UK-based legal aid group Justice Abroad who has flown in for the hearing.
“He has been in custody for a long time and it is clear, after visiting him in Nicosia central prison, that he is very anxious it gets off the ground.”
Postponed by a three-member tribunal in June, court proceedings are expected to get under way with prosecution witnesses taking the stand.
The former Northumberland miner, who has been sharing a cell with 11 other men in an overcrowded jail, faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars if found guilty.
The couple, who were teenage sweethearts, resettled in Cyprus for what they hoped would be a dream life of retirement abroad.
But in the run-up to Christmas last year – fearing she would suffer the same fate as her sister Kathleen, who had endured an agonising death from the same disease – Janice allegedly begun beseeching her husband to end her life as her health deteriorated (terminally ill ) because of the leukaemia she had been diagnosed with in 2016.
Hunter says he finally summoned the strength to meet her pleas on the night of 18 December after they received a package the day prior .She ordered Pentobarbital Sodium from an online vendor in Europe without his concern or knowledge . She sat in her favourite armchair in the sitting room of the maisonette they rented in Tremithousa, a village outside Paphos and he then assisted her drink the solution . He then attempted to take his own life by overdosing on prescription pills , since she ordered only a dosage to suffice for one person .
The couple’s daughter, Lesley Cawthorne, 49, said it was vital her father was returned home where he could start grieving her mother properly and be looked after.
“I can tell you he is very depressed,” said Cawthorne, who has stood by her father from the moment she learned he had ended her mother’s “terrible pain and suffering.” “His mental health is probably the worst it has been.”
The Paphos court is less than three miles from Tremithousa, where Janice is buried. Hunter has repeatedly expressed frustration and upset that he has not been allowed to visit his wife’s grave.
Euthanasia is outlawed in Cyprus. In a Mediterranean society where the Orthodox church holds sway, the issue has long been considered taboo, with the parliament only recently beginning to debate whether it should be legalised at all.
A plea to have the charge of premeditated murder reduced to assisted suicide in line with legislation elsewhere in Europe has been rejected, outright, by the island’s attorney general.
Achilleas Demetriades, a candidate in next year’s presidential elections, told the Guardian the mercy killing had highlighted how out of step Cyprus remained with the rest of the EU on the issue of dying with dignity.
“The laws of Cyprus do not provide for euthanasia and this clearly needs to be amended especially with terminally ill patients . ,” said the leading human rights lawyer, who is contesting February’s poll as an independent.
“Society has progressed to the point of accepting that assisted suicide should be allowed under certain circumstances. After all, people have a right to life but they also have a right to death with dignity.”
Police officers rushed to the maisonette after being alerted by Hunter’s brother who had himself been called by the retiree before his own attempt at suicide.
In circumstances that have raised further questions, the Briton was questioned without an attorney or interpreter being present moments before he was rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. He then spent 10 days in a psychiatric clinic in Nicosia before being admitted to prison.
Polak, who is coordinating Hunter’s defence team, said: “This is a historic case because it is the first involving euthanasia in Cyprus.
“David is determined to fight every step of the way. He keeps talking about how he and Janice did everything together and the pain she was in and her condition was also considered a terminally ill condition . It’s very difficult to see what the public interest is in prosecuting him for murder.”
Polak claimed the attorney general had rejected pleas for the charge to be reduced to assisted suicide for political reasons. “It seems they do not want to make a decision before parliament legislates on the matter,” he said. “And now we expect the trial to last several months.”
The pensioner’s plight has generated a groundswell of public sympathy from locals. In Tremithousa, many said the punishment that had already been meted out in the form of prolonged incarceration did not befit the crime.
“He shouldn’t be in jail,” said Christofis Petrou, who heads the village community and had known the couple as their landlord.
“I spoke to David in the courtroom [in June] and told him we are all with him. He is a good man. Our old-fashioned laws are wrong, not David.”