A Cyprus court sentenced a British man to two years in prison for killing his wife in their retirement home to spare her the pain from her illness, but prison authorities freed him Monday because of time he already had spent behind bars.
Defense lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou told The Associated Press that Cyprus Prisons Department authorities tabulated the time 76-year-old David Hunter had spent in custody since the December, 2021, killing and decided to release him immediately.
The court had earlier this month convicted Hunter of manslaughter after accepting testimony that his decision to suffocate his wife Janice was a made on the spur of the moment because he could no longer stand seeing her weeping in pain from a type of blood cancer she feared would develop into full-blown leukemia.
State prosecutor Andreas Hadjikyrou told the AP that the court took into account that Hunter, 76, acted “out of love” to save his wife. She was suffering from a blood ailment when he closed her mouth and nose with his hands as she sat in a recliner in their Paphos home.
It also took into consideration Hunter’s advanced age and that he had no previous criminal record.
Justice Abroad, a group that defends Britons facing legal troubles in foreign countries, welcomed word of Hunter’s early release.
“This has been a tragic case and difficult for all of those involved with it, but today’s decision was the right one and allows David and his family to grieve together,” said Michael Polak from Justice Abroad.
Hunter had faced a charge of premeditated murder, but the court found in its July 21 ruling that the prosecution didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was premeditation in his actions.
The court had accepted witness testimony that Janice feared her blood ailment would develop into full-blown leukemia and had repeatedly pleaded with her husband to take her life because she didn’t want to share the fate of her sister, who died of the disease.
Hunter attempted to take his own life by consuming a large amount of pills after suffocating his wife, but medical staff saved his life.
Hunter, a retired miner from the English region of Northumberland, and his wife had been teenage sweethearts and married for 52 years.
The court cited expert testimony that Janice Hunter suffered from myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer which “to a large degree” – as much as 45% – could turn into leukemia, although there was no proof that she had indeed developed the disease because no definitive tests were conducted.
But the court said both husband and wife believed that Janice would develop it because of her sister’s fate.
David Hunter’s earlier assurances to Janice that he would help her fulfill her wish to end her life and not suffer anymore didn’t indicate any premeditation, the court said.
Hadjikyrou said defense lawyers had rejected a plea deal in December 2022 for the defendant to plead guilty to manslaughter because they insisted the facts of the case include an agreement Hunter and his wife allegedly made for him to take her life. He said the court didn’t accept that such an agreement had indeed been made.
Charalambidou said it was the Cypriot attorney-general who scrapped the plea deal because he wouldn’t accept as fact that Janice had repeatedly asked her husband to take her life.
Hadjikyrou said the Cyprus attorney-general has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the sentence.
“Murder must be … committed in cold blood”
In Cyprus, a largely Christian Orthodox country, euthanasia is taboo and there is no law on assisted suicide.
The judges agreed with the defense case that Hunter had not committed premeditated murder but had acted spontaneously to end the life of his wife, who had been begging him to do so because of the pain she suffered.
“The way the accused acted at the material time does not show premeditation for his illegal act but, on the contrary, an impulsive act without a clear mind,” said presiding Judge Michalis Drousiotis.
“Murder must be the result of planning and committed in cold blood.”
Towards the end of her life, Hunter said his wife was so unwell that she could no longer walk upstairs, and they had to sleep in a lounge chair on the ground floor of their home.
During repeated blood transfusions for cancer, Hunter said she repeatedly asked him to end her life.
Polak said that “the sentencing exercise was not a simple one, given that a case like this has never come before the courts of Cyprus before”.
“The result of today’s hearing, and the court’s previous decision finding Mr Hunter not guilty of murder, is what we have been fighting for in this case, and David is very pleased with the outcome today,” he said.
Hunter’s family launched an online fundraiser to pay for legal fees and help bring him back to the U.K. It had raised nearly $50,000 as of Tuesday.
“My dad devoted himself to caring for my mum,” his daughter Lesley wrote on the page. “My father is in the latter stages of his life, and we just want him to be with us.”
AFP contributed to this story.