NSW woman avoids prison for mother's death

·3-min read

A woman who killed her elderly mother at a NSW nursing home is relieved and grateful to have avoided jail.

Barbara Eckersley was handed a two-year community corrections order at the NSW Supreme Court in Goulburn on Thursday.

While outlining his reasons for not handing down a prison sentence, Justice Robert Beech-Jones said Eckersley had been haunted by her involvement in her mother's death.

The 69-year-old has also been ordered to seek mental health treatment.

A jury last month found Eckersley killed Mary White, her non-verbal, frail mother by lacing her food with a drug known as "green dream".

She was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder, over the 2018 death.

Eckersley's family and friends shed tears of relief inside the courtroom after learning she would avoid jail.

She and husband Richard stood beside defence lawyer Adrian McKenna as he read a statement on her behalf.

"To say it has been a trying and tumultuous almost three years for Barbara would be quite the understatement," Mr McKenna told reporters outside court.

"She is completely relieved and very grateful to be walking out today and finally finishing this court process."

Prosecutors rejected Eckersley's multiple plea offers for a manslaughter charge before going to trial.

Justice Beech-Jones said Eckersley intended to end her mother's life, but she was affected by depression caused from the stress of caring for the elderly woman.

Ms White, 92, an acclaimed environmental scientist, had severe dementia and other health conditions, having suffered a stroke in 2016.

She died two days before she was due to move out of the nursing home in Bundanoon in the NSW Southern Highlands to another facility in Coffs Harbour, closer to other family.

Eckersley visited on August 5, placing a small amount of a drug in Ms White's soup.

The "green dream" was left over from Eckersley's work as a wildlife carer in Canberra about two decades earlier.

It was used to euthanise native animals.

Eckersley's actions were done out of love, despair and desperation, Justice Beech-Jones said.

He said it was hardly surprising the jury had not attached the label of murderer to her.

Justice Beech-Jones decided on a community corrections order based on a range of factors, including that Eckersley was unlikely to reoffend and was not a danger to society.

But he said the killing of a vulnerable person by someone in a trusted position was serious.

In 2018, after telling detectives she had put drugs in her mother's meal, Eckersley was charged with murder.

At trial, her lawyer argued the drugs were not a significant cause of death, pointing to Ms White's heart condition, thrombosis and other health issues.

But multiple experts agreed she had lethal levels of "green dream", known as pentobarbital, in her system.

At the time of her death the former scientist was paralysed on the right side of her body and needed full-time care.