Apr 08, 2021

NSW woman pleads not guilty of murdering 92-year-old mother in aged care home

Empty aged care room

Barbara Eckersley, 68, has pleaded not guilty of the murder of her mother following the older woman’s death by overdose of antidepressants. 

Two years after being accused of mixing the lethal dose of antidepressants – barbiturates known as “green dream” – into her 92-year-old mother’s food, Ms Eckersley faced trial this month. The jury will determine whether the drugs caused her death, if Ms Eckersley intended on killing her mother, and whether she knew what she was doing was wrong. 

Ms Eckersley’s mother, the alleged victim Dr Mary White, lived with her daughter from 2014, until she suffered a stroke and was moved into an aged care facility in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. Dr White was an acclaimed scientist, and was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2009 for services to botany research. 

In August 2018, Dr White died, and an autopsy revealed toxic levels of barbiturates in her blood. Ms Eckersley allegedly told police that she had fed her mother the drugs to ease pain and discomfort, as she was due to be moved to a new facility in Coffs Harbour. 

According to Ms Eckersley, she allegedly acquired the drugs while working as a wildlife care volunteer in Canberra 20 years earlier. 

On Wednesday, Ms Eckersley faced Goulburn court – over two years since her mother’s alleged murder – having entered a not guilty plea. Crown prosecutor Paul Kerr told the jury that murder was an “emotionally charged word”, which did not accurately describe Ms Eckersley, and “conjures images of violence, mayhem and death”.

“Those words don’t describe Barbara Eckersley,” Mr Kerr said, describing Ms Eckersley as a  “loving and caring daughter”, but who was facing trial because she did not have a lawful reason for her actions, which required planning and deception. 

Ms Eckersley’s lawyer Kieran Ginges said that she denied having any intentions to kill her mother, and that she was suffering through a major depressive episode at the time of the incident. 

It is believed that the court will hear from a number of mental health experts about whether her condition impacted her ability to comprehend or control her actions and decisions. 

Mr Gringes also said that medical experts would attend court to discuss Dr White’s worsening health in the months leading up to her death, stating that her family had been increasingly concerned about her ongoing care in the facility, prompting the move to a new residence in Coffs Harbour. 

There is no suggestion that Ms Eckersley’s actions were motivated by her inheritance. 

Ms Eckersley’s trial is ongoing.

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