The trial of a British pensioner for the premeditated murder in Cyprus of his terminally ill wife has been delayed, with defense lawyers arguing that David Hunter should instead be charged with assisting a suicide.
The presiding judge, Dimitris Kitsios, postponed the trial for a further three months, saying it was crucial the court concluded an ongoing case that had taken longer than foreseen before it recessed for the summer.
Speaking publicly for the first time since being charged with the killing, David Hunter said he sought solace in the daily prison telephone calls he has with his daughter, who has stood by him after her mother’s death.
“My priority is buying phone cards,” he said on Thursday, moments after proceedings in Paphos’ criminal court were adjourned until 19 September. “I talk to her every day.”
Lesley Cawthorne, 49, told the Guardian she had supported her father from the moment she learned he had ended her cancer-stricken mother’s “terrible pain and suffering” six months ago.
In the run-up to Christmas, Janice Hunter, 75, had allegedly beseeched her husband to terminate the agony that had stripped her of any will to live. The retired miner says he finally summoned the strength on the night of 18 December, blocking the air passages of the woman he had lived with for more than five decades in the maisonette the couple rented in Tremithousa, a village outside Paphos. Immediately afterwards, he attempted to take his own life, overdosing on prescription pills.
If found guilty, the 75-year-old, who appeared before judges in a black shirt and jeans, faces the prospect, under Cypriot law, of spending the rest of his life behind bars. Cawthorne has been unable to travel out to Cyprus because of health issues.
“My greatest worry is that he will die, alone, in a foreign prison and never see me or my daughter again,” Cawthorne said in April when it was hoped the trial would begin.
Describing her father as a “decent, honest and loving man,” she said that shortly before her mother was diagnosed with leukemia, he had been hit by a stroke. “He made an amazing recovery but I worry about his health from him,” she said from her home in Norwich. “My parents moved to Cyprus to begin a dream life in a lovely climate and they loved each other and were very social people. I respect [Greek Cypriots’] laws and culture but I implore them to show compassion. The best thing they could do is to have my dad return home.”
The family had been hoping that on Thursday Hunter would finally have his day in court. Cawthorne said her father had been left “crestfallen” by the postponement.
The Briton’s defense team has appealed to the Mediterranean island’s top legal officer to reduce the charge of premeditated murder to assisted suicide in line with legislation elsewhere in Europe.
But in a nation where euthanasia remains taboo – and has only begun to be debated in parliament – the request was rejected outright by the attorney general.
“It’s a very sensitive issue,” said Irene Charalambidou, an MP with the leftwing Akel party who has long advocated for euthanasia to be legalized. “In our country it is still seen as suicide, even murder, and in religious circles there is a lot of resistance… it is going to take time before it is passed into law.”
Lawyers said the circumstances in which Hunter was interrogated by police – without an attorney or interpreter being present after spending days in hospital where doctors had pumped his stomach – were also questionable.
“Although David is disappointed that the trial did not start today, he is determined to fight this case and we will be challenging the evidence at every stage in our mission to bring [him] home,” said Michael Polak, a barrister who heads the British legal aid group Justice Abroad, which is coordinating his defence. “David is 75 years old, and it is difficult to see any public interest in prosecuting him for murder.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism