24 May 2010

Caregiver accused of murdering tetraplegic friend

5:38 pm on 24 May 2010

A man has gone on trial in Christchurch charged with the murder of his tetraplegic friend.

Eric Smail, 53, has pleaded not guilty in the High Court to the murder of Keith McCormick at Sumner in 2005.

Mr McCormick had no feeling below his neck and needed 24-hour care. The accused was a regular live-in caregiver for the 56-year-old.

The Crown and defence made opening statements to the jury of five men and seven women on Monday.

The Crown says on the night of July 28 2005, Mr Smail came home from the pub one night, stabbed Mr McCormick in the neck six times and cut his throat.

Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes told the court the accused intended to murder Mr McCormick and told several friends that day that he was going to do so, but no one took him seriously.

Defence asks for manslaughter

The defence told the court Mr Smail should be convicted of manslaughter, not murder.

Lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr, QC, said this is a rare case where the partial defence of provocation could reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter.

The defence of provocation was removed from the law books in 2009, but Justice Chisholm told the jury on Monday that did not affect this case, which happened almost five years ago.

It means this trial will be one of the last time that defence can be tried.

Mrs Ablett-Kerr says Mr Smail was incapable of dealing with the stresses of living with and caring for Mr McCormick, causing him to lose self-control and stab his friend in the neck.

The trial is expected to take four weeks.