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Son sentenced over helping mother to die

Published: 10:04AM Thursday November 24, 2011

A Dunedin scientist has been sentenced to five months home detention for counselling and procuring the suicide of Patricia Davison.

Sean Davison, 50, admitted helping to kill his 85-year-old terminally ill mother.

Davison said she begged him to help her die.

Patricia Elizabeth Davison died on October 25, 2006 at her home in Broad Bay on the Otago Peninsula.

The trial arose from emails and manuscripts Davison wrote about nursing his mother in the final three months of her life.

In an exclusive interview on TV ONE's Sunday, Davison said he still firmly believes he was not in the wrong.

"There should have been some objective look at this case and really it should have gone no further.

"They should not have charged me, they should not have prosecuted," he said.

Devoted and loving son

Justice Christine French said she did not dispute that Davison was "an exceptionally devoted and loving son". But she said emails and manuscripts suggest he was aware what he was doing was a criminal offence.

She said in her view his offending is at the lower end of the scale and was committed solely out of compassion and not personal gain.

"Your mother while vulnerable in one sense was still strong willed and in a sense put you under some pressure," French said.

Crown lawyer Robin Bates accepted Davison acted out of compassion rather than personal gain, but disputed claims made on TV ONE's Sunday programme that his mother was in agony in the days before her death, and that he was present at the moment she died.

Bates said there was significant premeditation in Davison's actions, particularly in obtaining a morphine pump and crushing the morphine tablets which he gave to his mother.

He called for Davison to be sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, but did not oppose the possibility of home detention.

The Crown had withdrawn an earlier attempted murder charge.

A pre-sentence report said Davison accepted responsibility for his actions and regretted finding himself in this situation, but did not regret what he did.

Davison's lawyer, Roger Laybourn said the act was motivated entirely by love and compassion and the wishes of the victim played a "dominant role".

Laybourn said Patricia Davison was more determined to die than Sean was to see her die and there was no breach of trust because the mother "was the one who was calling the shots".

He said from the outset Davison "found the suggestion that he was trying to murder his mother was absolutely repugnant".

Laybourn suggested the judge has a wide discretion upon sentencing.

Professor Davison holds a position in South Africa and has a wife and children there. He returned voluntarily to New Zealand to stand trail and his bail application was assisted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu testifying to his character.

"Although I respect the law in New Zealand I feel that the case of Dr Sean Davison is an exceptional and tragic my option he is an upright citizen who has made a contribution to society and has much more to offer. I urge the court to show leniency in sentencing," Tutu said.