The decision of a Supreme Court judge today will set a national and international precedent for the conviction of counselling suicide, in the case of a Queensland man who encouraged and aided his wife to kill herself four years ago.
- Graham Morant pleaded not guilty to aiding and counselling his wife to take her own life
- He was the sole beneficiary of his wife’s three life insurance policies worth $1.4 million
- A jury convicted him on the two charges and his sentence will set a precedent
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Graham Robert Morant, 69, was found guilty on two counts last month for persuading his wife Jennifer Morant to take her own life, and helping her buy equipment from a hardware store.
Mrs Morant, who suffered from chronic back pain, depression and anxiety, was found dead in her car by police, on November 30, 2014.
The trial in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane heard Morant stood to gain $1.4 million from three life insurance policies, to be paid out even in the event of a suicide.
The prosecution argued Morant had “1.4 million reasons” to intentionally help his wife end her life.
The court heard Morant planned to build a religious commune with the money, with bunkers in the Gold Coast hinterland as a haven from the biblical rapture.
He told his wife it would not be a sin in God’s eyes for her to take her own life as she would be helping the church’s work, and warned that she would not be strong enough to survive the rapture.
He also encouraged her by telling her he knew a way to commit suicide, and verbally agreed to help her do it.
The court heard there did not appear to be any precedent in Australia or internationally in relation to the charge of counselling.
Graham Morant claimed he wasn’t aware of the details of the policies, despite being named as the sole beneficiary. (AAP Image: Dan Peled)
Legal expert Christine Smyth said the difference between a murder charge and aiding a suicide was the voluntary act of the deceased.
“If you cause someone’s death, you could be charged with murder or manslaughter … with assisted suicide, you’re not causing their death, because the death is occurring at their own hand,” she said.
“The difficulty with these particular charges is that in your run-of-the-mill murder or manslaughter charge, often one of the elements is the mental element.
“What is in the mind of the person committing the act? That’s usually the person being charged … the person who is alive.
“In this case, you’ve got the element of what’s going on in the mind of the person being charged with aiding and counselling of the suicide, as well as trying to prove what was in the mind of the person who suicided.
“So that’s a very difficult thing to establish.”
‘$1.4 million is the carrot’
In determining the degree of Morant’s moral blame, Justice Peter Davis will need to decide whether the jury had fully accepted the prosecution’s argument, and the testimonies of witnesses, that his actions were financially motivated by the insurance policies.
When speaking to Morant’s defence barrister during sentencing submissions last week, Justice Davis said he did not have any reason to make a finding that Morant was in a bad financial way at the time.
“Having said that, your client’s financial position was that $1.4 million was a lot of money … I think it would be to all of us,” he said.
“My impression at the moment is just simply, that $1.4 million in the context of the rest of this case, is the carrot.
“If there is a finding that your client committed the offences in order to obtain the insurance money, than that is a factually aggravating circumstance.”
Prosecutor Michael Lehane is calling for a head sentence on the two charges of 10-14 years without the possibility of an early release, while Morant’s defence co-counsel Mark Thomas has asked for eight years with parole eligibility after six months.
Ms Smyth said the court’s findings would set a precedent for future decisions.
“You would expect that the court might look to set a standard from this, but of course it will be very careful because it’s the first time the conviction’s taken place,” she said.
The sentencing will begin in the Supreme Court in Brisbane at 11:00am.