'Mercy killer' gets life for murder
A church-goer who smothered a dying devout Christian with a pillow despite her victim's opposition to euthanasia has been jailed for life with a minimum term of nine years for his murder.
Cancer patient David Paterson, 81, was close to a natural death when he was suffocated by Heather Davidson, 54, in the bedroom of his care home on February 11.
About two hours before, she had called Macmillan Cancer Support to ask if smothering her friend would make her a murderer.
She claimed it was a mercy killing, but she acted "unilaterally" without thinking about what he wanted, or the views of family and staff, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Judge Simon Bourne-Arton: "You were only were saving him a few hours of suffering.
"In so doing, you deprived him of what he wanted most, a natural death. This private man did not in death have a private ending."
Davidson had made complaints in the phone call to Macmillan about how the widower was being treated at Sowerby House, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which the prosecution said were unfounded.
She wept in the dock as extracts from the call she made from her mobile phone during her final visit to Mr Paterson were played in court.
In the call, Davidson said her friend could not eat or drink, was "skin and bone" and was in a "dreadful state".
She told the handler: "It might be better if I could put a pillow over his face."
Later, she asked: "Would I be a murderer if I did that?"
The charity worker replied firmly: "In the eyes of the law, yes you would, yeah."
Davidson said in the call: "If he was a dog he would have been put down months ago."
In a macabre twist, the court heard Davidson has a previous conviction for trying to smother her neighbour's dog. After an argument, she took the pet and taped a plastic bag over its head.
The dog was found limp, hidden in a bedding box by a police officer who managed to revive it.
The handler informed her supervisor during the conversation and the police were contacted but the call could not be traced immediately.
Davidson killed Mr Davidson despite knowing his religious beliefs, the court heard. They attended church together, sitting in the same pew.
Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, told the hearing: "As a devout Christian, he had strong ethical objections to euthanasia.
"He had said it will be God's decision and only God's when it was his time to meet his maker."
She felt he was suffering, although Mr Sharp said he was "generally comfortable" and had been prescribed morphine.
Suspicions were raised immediately after Davidson alerted staff that Mr Paterson had died, as there was blood on the pillow. A post mortem confirmed he had been smothered.
The defendant, from Sowerby, Thirsk, pleaded guilty to murder last month, after police discovered evidence from the calls she had made to Macmillan.
Mr Paterson was happily married for 51 years until his wife died in March 2014. They had no children but he was in regular contact with his sister, nephews and nieces.
He was a "pillar of his local church" - St Mary's in Thirsk, the court heard.
He and his killer got to know each other through a group for people with mental health issues which she attended due to her problems with alcohol and where he was a volunteer helper.
She attended church with him and when he was in the home she visited two or three times a week.
David Aubrey QC, defending, insisted the killing should be considered as a mercy killing as she had seen his rapid deterioration over the previous 10 months.
Had she known how close to death he was, she would not have smothered him, the court heard.
"It is clear that the defendant suffers from and shows genuine remorse," he said. "She regrets bitterly and is ashamed for what she has put this man though."