By JAMES GARDINER
"This is unjust," cried euthanasia advocate Lesley Martin after she was found guilty of attempting to murder her dying mother.
And from the dock, she urged people to fight to change the law.
In dramatic scenes inside the High Court at Wanganui, Martin, 40, burst into tears and there were loud gasps after a jury found her guilty of one charge, using a morphine overdose on her mother, Joy, and not guilty of the second charge, attempted murder by suffocating her with a pillow.
Friends and family members were distraught as Martin stood, face frozen, her hands clenching and unclenching.
After the judge left the courtroom, Martin remained in the dock sobbing, embraced by her elder son, Matthew, 20.
"I'm proud of you," she told him, then called out: "Tell New Zealand to complain about this; this is unjust."
She said supporters should call the euthanasia group she founded, Exit NZ.
"This is people caught between legislation and love.
"There are so many people in the country in my position and I'm just trying everything I can to bring this to a head.
"The time has come to address this issue.
"People have to get off their bums and do something about this, otherwise more and more people are going to end up in my position."
The maximum penalty for attempted murder is 14 years.
But in an unusual move, Martin's lawyer, Donald Stevens, requested that she not be immediately convicted, as she was unlikely to go to prison.
Dr Stevens said he would apply for a discharge without conviction.
After consultation in chambers, Justice John Wild agreed not to record a conviction.
He granted Martin bail, on condition she live at her New Plymouth home and not hold or apply for a passport, a continuation of previous bail conditions.
The jury took just under 5 1/2 hours to reach its verdict after the 13-day trial.
The verdict is a setback for euthanasia campaigners, who vowed to keep fighting to change the law to allow "mercy killings".
Outside the court, Exit NZ committee member Bruce Corney said the trial was not about Joy Martin being the victim.
"Lesley Martin's the victim," he said.
Joy Martin was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 1998.
She was operated on in January 1999, suffered complications, nausea, and depression, and was found to have a cancerous tumour on her liver.
She elected not to have treatment and to be nursed by her daughter, an experienced intensive care nurse, so she could die at home.
In her book, To Die Like a Dog, Lesley Martin described how her mother asked her: "Don't let me lie there, not alive and not dead ... Please help me ... Be quick."
In the book, written as a screenplay, Martin quotes herself as saying: "I'll know ... I'll know when it's time ... I won't leave you like that ... I promise."
Hospice nurse Wiki Alward told the jury that Martin told her she gave her mother 60mg of morphine on the night of May 26-27, 1999.
Mrs Alward said Martin told her the morphine was not because her mother had increased pain but because "my mum had indicated she didn't want a slow painful death, and I did not want that either".
The Crown alleged Martin had refused help to care for her mother, as she wanted to be alone to administer the morphine.
The defence said Martin was stressed, under "intolerable pressure" and exhausted because of a lack of back-up, and that her book could not be relied on for evidence.
In his summing-up, Justice Wild said the case was an important one.
The jury had to put their own views about euthanasia to one side.
He said New Zealand had no defence of diminished responsibility.
After the verdict, he paid tribute to Martin, saying the dignified way she had conducted herself "reflects well upon you as a person".
Martin will be sentenced in Wanganui on April 30.
Australia's "Dr Death", Philip Nitschke, who gained notoriety in 1995 when he helped four terminally ill people commit suicide, called the court case "ridiculous", saying all it did was point to the "remarkable inadequacy of existing legislation".
Dr Nitschke told the Herald that he was surprised by the guilty verdict but admitted the jury was "stuck between a rock and a hard place".
"I think it would be a difficult job for a jury and then for a judge to have to now try to work out some sort of penalty for something that really was a compassionate and loving act."
* Additional reporting: ALAN PERROTT, NATASHA HARRIS