A judge has today ordered "Black Widow" murderer Helen Milner to pay her son $55,000 in compensation after she "wickedly" framed him by sending herself fake death threats that lead to him being falsely jailed for 18 days.
Adam Kearns, 23, won the damages payment in the High Court at Christchurch today after launching a civil action that claimed "hurt, distress and humiliation", as well as financial loss, caused by his wrongful imprisonment.
Milner, 50, is serving a life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for the murder of second husband Phil Nisbet, 47, in 2009. She has lost a Court of Appeal action against her conviction and is currently trying to appeal through the highest court in New Zealand, the Supreme Court.
Milner, who had not taken any steps to be represented at the hearing, told police in April 2010 that Mr Kearns had sent her death threats.
She told officers he was "extremely aggressive... he won't stop until he's killed or seriously harmed someone". She said that she feared for her safety.
Mr Kearns' girlfriend at the time, Kasey Woodstock, told the 14-day trial Milner offered them a slice of a $250,000 life insurance windfall if they spent $5000 on hiring a killer.
Ms Woodstock told police she was visited by Milner shortly after she sent herself bogus death threats in text messages.
"What wicked, calculated behaviour," Mr Cook said, saying that she called by to "stoke the embers of anger into flames".
Ms Woodstock told how Milner had driven her to the police station to lodge complaints and sat beside her while giving a statement.
Mr Kearns' video made to police on April 10, 2010 was also produced for Justice Whata where he immediately identifies his mother as a suspect for sending the text messages.
Mr Kearns was in the court's public gallery today, along with Mr Nisbet's youngest son Ben Porter.
His lawyer Kerry Cook said it was "abhorrent to imagine" a mother falsifying evidence with the intention of getting her son put in jail for conduct she well knows he didn't commit.
"Such conduct defies the supposed maternal bond between a mother and her child."
The lawyer said is was the most "wicked example" ever seen in a New Zealand court, adding that it was an action designed to cause "significant harm".
"In lying to the police and framing her biological son, the defendant acted with outrageous, flagrant, high-handed, or contumelious disregard for [Mr Kearns'] rights," Mr Cook said.
"He has clearly suffered," Mr Cook said, and that was why he sought $60,000 in damages, plus costs.
Justice Christian Whata took five hours to consider his decision, concluding that it was "difficult to think of a more clear cut case".
He described Milner's conduct as "outrageous and calculated", designed to put her son behind bars.
Mr Cook said he was delighted for Mr Kearns who would feel "vindicated" after suffering for a long time.
"It was a difficult step to take his mother to court, but as the judge said, she had framed him, and so he took an unusual step in what was an unusual case."
Outside court, Mr Kearns was pleased with the result.
The decision in his favour has "finally cleared my name", he said, adding that it's given him "some closure".
"It's good it's come finally, but it's been nearly six years now, so it was about time something good happened."
Asked if he thought his mum would pay up, he replied: "I'm not going to give here a choice either way, even if I have to sell the debt to a debt collection agency. She can't run anywhere."
Mr Kearns feels the incident has not had a long-term adverse affect on him, but accepts it was tough at the time.
"It messed with my head a bit, just not being believed. I was only young, turning 19 the first weekend I was in there..."
Now, he knows he will never speak to his mother again.
"I'll never look at her as my mum again. She's dead to me," he said.
Justice Whata ordered her to pay Mr Kearns $45,000 in general damages for his financial loss and $10,000 in exemplary damages for the malicious prosecution. He also ordered Milner to pay legal costs.