Ex-nurse to serve her 27 years in jail

tribunal hearing legal case

A nurse who murdered two aged care residents with insulin after they made complaints about her has had her appeal on 20 grounds dismissed

Former nurse Megan Jean Haines was tried in late 2016 before Justice Peter Garling and a jury in the Supreme Court at Sydney on two counts of murder.

The court found that Ms Haines, while employed as a registered nurse at the St Andrews Aged Care facility in Ballina, murdered residents Isabella Spencer, 77, and Marie Darragh, 82, after they made complaints about her.

Ms Haines had been told that Ms Darragh had complained about her refusing to give her a cream to soothe an itch and also that she had made a rude comment, while Ms Spencer said Ms Haines had refused to assist her in reaching the toilet.

At the time of the complaints, Ms Haines was subject to reporting conditions with AHPRA after having had her registration previously cancelled a few years’ back due to allegations of unprofessional conduct.

The prosecution asserted that Ms Haines thought it would be likely that further complaints, if substantiated, would end her nursing career.

Ms Haines was found to have murdered Ms Spencer and Ms Darragh by injecting each of them with insulin. Neither Ms Spencer nor Ms Darragh were insulin dependent.

An insulin ampoule, usually kept in the medication room of the facility, was found to have been missing in the facility on the day of their deaths.

As a result of the insulin injection, both Ms Spencer and Ms Darragh fell into a hypoglycaemic coma and died.

Both murder counts were alleged to have been committed on 10 May 2014 at Ballina, NSW. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on each count.

Following the conviction, Ms Haines was sentenced to an aggregate sentence comprising a non-parole period of imprisonment for 27 years, which means she will be first eligible for parole in July 2041, with a maximum sentence of 36 years.

In late October of this year, Ms Haines sought leave to appeal against that sentence, relying on 20 different grounds of appeal.

The first ground of appeal was that the evidence in relation to each count was not sufficient to secure a conviction.

Before the Court of Criminal Appeal of the Supreme Court of NSW, Ms Haines submitted that the type and source of the insulin used to murder the deceased was not identified.

She also submitted that the Crown did not lead any evidence of investigation to ascertain the pharmacy or dispensary that had provided the used ampoules.

Ms Haines contended that the relevant records of the insulin audit at St Andrews indicated that personnel at the facility were unsure how many ampoules of insulin had arrived, and were therefore unable to determine any discrepancy.

However Justices Clifton Hoeben, David Davies and Richard Button found that “it was well open to the jury to find beyond reasonable doubt that the applicant was guilty on both counts. The verdicts were not unreasonable.

“Motive, opportunity and knowledge of the use of insulin were revealed by the evidence,” found the appeal judges.

This ground of appeal was not made out.

During the initial trial, the court heard that Ms Haines, while watching a crime show with her former partner, had boasted about using insulin to kill a person without being detected.

However when giving evidence, Ms Haines told the jury she could not remember the conversation although added that she would sometimes discuss her nursing knowledge while watching similar TV shows.

At the appeal hearing, Ms Haines pointed to alleged failures of her counsel relating to the alleged conversation about the “perfect murder”.

She argued that her legal representatives failed to cross examine the witness during the initial trial, and that the evidence in itself had also been wrongfully admitted.

Defence counsel denied the allegations that they had placed undue pressure on her.

These grounds of appeal were not made out.

Additionally Ms Haines contested that the two counts of murder should not have been heard together but during separate trials.

The appeal judges, in their November ruling, said these grounds failed to have regard to the premise accepted by both sides as underpinning the trial, that the same person murdered the two deceased.

“Once it is understood that the trial proceeded on the basis that the one person had committed both murders, the need for the sort of direction raised by these grounds of appeal did not arise.”

Altogether leave to appeal against sentence was granted on some grounds, but the appeal against her sentence was dismissed.

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