Sleepwalker acquitted of attempted murder—The Telegraph

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The Telegraph

02 Jun 2009

Donna Sheppard-Saunders, 33, called police herself after her mother Pamela Sheppard, 54, woke screaming in the bedroom they shared on September 15 last year, a jury heard.

Lewes Crown Court heard that Pamela cried out before realising it was her daughter who was holding the pillow to her face.

Ms Sheppard-Saunders, described in court as “childlike”, held hands with a family member as she left the courtroom after three hours in the dock.

Her father and brother were prepared to give evidence that she used to sleepwalk as a child after she battled leukaemia, but there was no evidence of it more recently.

Judge Charles Kemp asked the jury to acquit Ms Sheppard-Saunders after hearing one morning of evidence, saying there was no proof she intended to kill her mother.

He said: “The evidence paints a sad and distressing picture, and this case has been very distressing for the defendant, her mother and every member of the family.

“I’ve come to the conclusion there is no evidence of an intent to kill, or not sufficient for your consideration.

“The mother never wanted it to get to this point.”

In a statement, Pamela, who had lived with her daughter at her three-bedroom terrace house in Petworth, West Sussex, for nearly five years, said she thought she was having a “bad nightmare” when she found herself being suffocated.

She said: “I screamed out for help from Donna. I managed to pull something away from my face and saw Donna trying to cover my face with the pillow.

“The more I struggled with Donna, the harder she pushed on me. She had the pillow on me for about 30 seconds in total.

“I managed to push Donna off me and ran out of the room. Donna followed me and kept saying she was sorry.

“She told me she couldn’t remember what had happened and all she wanted to do was stop me from snoring.”

Ms Sheppard-Saunders, who claimed to have a history of sleepwalking and was taking anti-depressants, told police in the 999 call: “I just went blank.”

Asked why she had done it, she added: “I have no idea. I didn’t know I was doing it until mum woke me up.”

She said she also had no recollection of putting a blue fleece over her nightie, but found herself wearing it after the incident.

During the call, the phone is passed to her hysterical mother, who said: “I’m a bit frightened at the moment. My son is coming to get me.

“I was struggling and shouting to get her off me. I can’t believe she was doing that to me. She tried to suffocate me for no reason.”

The court heard Ms Sheppard-Saunders’ brother, Luke, had said she was strong enough to kill her mother, if she wanted to. He added that his sister would ask their mum for sweets and whether she could go to the toilet.

Ms Sheppard-Saunders hugged her family outside court after the case was thrown out, ending her nine-month ordeal.