Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Poisoning trial: Fatal pill dose could dissolve in food

Helen Milner in the Christchurch High Court.
Helen Milner in the Christchurch High Court.

Scientific tests carried out during the Helen Milner homicide investigation found that 50 crushed up sedative pills could be dissolved into food until they were "barely visible", but resulted in a strong bitter taste, a court heard today.

Milner, 50, is accused of killing Phil Nisbet, 47, by slipping the sedative and anti-histamine Phenergan into his food and, while he was heavily sedated, probably finishing him off with a pillow.

She then made his death on May 4, 2009 look like suicide, the Crown alleges.

Today, on the eighth day of her murder trial in the High Court at Christchurch, the jury heard that testing was done to see if their theory was scientifically possible.

Detective Sergeant Earle Borrell produced a receipt from a supermarket where Milner had bought food the day before her second husband died.

He bought a bag of microwave rice, a jar of Chicken Tonight, and a jar of Pams-brand Chinese sweet and sour cooking sauce. He also picked up two packets of 25mg Phenergan pills from a Christchurch pharmacy and took the items to an ESR laboratory for testing.

ESR forensic scientist Heidi Baker crushed up 50 pills using a mortar and pestle.

The resulting powder was white in colour with a blue speckled appearance, she said.

She mixed the powder with the Chinese sauce. Some of the powder appeared to dissolve, but blue specks were still seen when poured on to a plate of rice.

The plate was then microwaved for two minutes. Blue specks were still visible, but when the plate was microwaved for a further one-and-a-half minutes, the sauce was bubbling.

"And the blue specks dissolved to where they were barely visible to the naked eye," she said.

ESR forensic scientist Gary Gillespie organised a blind taste test on August 14 last year.

Detective James Moyle was given four meals of sweet and sour pork to try - one with 25 crushed pills in it, one laced with 50 pills, and two that had nothing added to them.

The half-dose of Phenergan sample had a "slightly bitter taste", he reported.

The full dose had a "strong bitter taste" he reported.

His mouth was numb for the next 3-4 hours, he said, but he suffered no other side-effects. He chewed the food to get a taste before spitting it out and rinsing his mouth with water.

Under cross-examination by defence counsel Rupert Glover today, Mr Moyle said the 25-pill sample wasn't so bitter that a person wouldn't eat it, but there was no way you would eat the food containing twice that amount.

Milner denies murdering Mr Nisbet on May 4, 2009, as well as attempting to kill him twice on April 15, 2009.

The Crown says Milner was unhappy in her marriage and motivated to murder by the prospect of cashing in the $250,000 life insurance policy.

She plotted the best ways to kill her husband - buying drugs under false names, asking friends for views on poisoning methods and even offering to pay $20,000 for a hit man to kill Mr Nisbet, it is alleged.

The trial, before Justice David Gendall, continues.

- APNZ

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