‘Selfless love’ motivated suffocation of partner — (Sydney Morning Herald)

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Sydney Morning Herald

Date April 29, 2011

Louise Hall

“It’s over” … David Scott Matthers, leaving the Supreme Court, received a suspended sentence. Photo: Nick Moir

A RETIRED teacher who suffocated his chronically ill partner of 22 years will not go to jail after a Supreme Court judge found he acted out of ”selfless love” and ordered his two-year prison sentence be suspended.

David Scott Mathers, 66, placed a pillow, then a towel and finally a plastic bag over the head of Eva Griffith, 78, after she twice unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide by an overdose of antidepressant medication.

Mathers, of Lidcombe, was due to stand trial for murder but this month pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of substantial mental impairment.

Yesterday Justice Peter Hall said Ms Griffith ”was in a cognitively sound state of mind when she decided that she wished to end her life” and Mathers was confronted with an ”agonising conflict” when her two suicide attempts within about 36 hours failed.

The director of Exit International, Philip Nitschke, welcomed the sentence, saying Ms Griffith was a supporter of voluntary euthanasia. However, Dr Nitschke also said: “These situations should not lead to the courtroom, but this can only happen when we see changes to existing legislation that outlaws all cases of assisted suicide.”

Justice Hall said the couple, who met at a music group, ”were devoted to one another” and Mathers became depressed and anxious when Ms Griffith became crippled with osteoarthritis and expressed her desire to commit suicide to escape her chronic pain.

Justice Hall accepted the view of a forensic psychiatrist and a psychologist that Mathers’s mood disorders affected his ability to judge right from wrong and his ability to control his actions.

In an interview with police, Mathers, who also had prostate cancer, said he struggled to think clearly and make decisions in the three weeks before Ms Griffith’s death on July 7, 2009, inside her Ashfield unit.

”On one hand, I don’t want to lose her and on the other hand I did not want to see her in agony,” he said.

”She couldn’t see any other way out … and I couldn’t see anything else but to respect that decision.”

Ms Griffith had been hospitalised for excruciating pain twice in the fortnight before her death and had regularly told Mathers and her twin sister, Gloria Jackson, that she did not want to live as an invalid in a nursing home.

Mathers said on the evening of July 5, 2009, that he helped her take 18 antidepressant tablets with a glass of wine, followed by another 13 pills 24 hours later. When she was still alive the following morning, he told police, ”I finished what she’d started, didn’t I.”

A toxicology report indicated the level of amitriptyline in her blood was potentially lethal.

Justice Hall also said Mathers deserved leniency for volunteering his involvement in the death and pleading guilty.

Outside the court, Mathers said: ”I wished I didn’t have to do it.

”It’s been an ordeal. I’m glad it’s over.”