NICOSIA, Cyprus — The trial of a British man charged with the premeditated murder of his sick wife got underway Thursday in Cyprus’ coastal resort town of Paphos, with defense lawyers arguing that David Hunter should instead be charged with assisting a suicide.
Justice Abroad, a group that defends Britons embroiled in legal difficulties in foreign countries, says the case against Hunter, 74, is likely the first euthanasia case to be tried on the east Mediterranean island nation. It comes as lawmakers debate whether to decriminalize euthanasia, amid strong opposition from conservative circles, including the influential Orthodox Church.
Hunter’s wife Janice, 74, died in December 2021 at the couple’s retirement home in Paphos where many of the up to 60,000 British expatriates live.
Justice Abroad spokesman Michael Polak said Janice was on heavy medication for a type of blood cancer. He said Cyprus’ Attorney General George Savvides rejected a defense request to reduce the charge to assisted suicide, which would likely keep Hunter out of jail, without providing any reasoning for his decision.
“No one believes Mr. Hunter should go to jail for this,” Polak told The Associated Press.
Speaking to the U.K. newspaper the Mirror, Hunter’s daughter Lesley said that her mother had “begged him for a long time (to assist her death) and was very clear about what she wanted.”
But prosecutors say there’s no tangible evidence — like a written note — to suggest that Hunter’s wife had ever asked him specifically to help her die.
Prosecutors also disputed that there was any medical diagnosis proving that Janice Hunter suffered from leukemia or “blood cancer.” They also said defense attorneys turned down a deal to have Hunter plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter that would have resulted in a prison sentence of only a few years.
Polak countered that the burden remains on prosecutors to demonstrate a motive as to why Hunter would want to murder his wife.
He said there was an “unofficial” offer to get Hunter to plead guilty to manslaughter, but there would be “no point” in putting a man of his age in prison, dismissing a suggestion by prosecutors that anything short of manslaughter charge would create a negative legal precedent.