Mother held after death of daughter in suicide pact

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A judge ruled yesterday that a British woman accused of shooting her ailing daughter should remain in prison while awaiting trial, the suspect's lawyer said.

Margaret Allison Mininni, 65, was arrested on Friday at her apartment in Altamura, 25 miles south-west of Bari in southern Italy, shortly after the death of her 24-year-old daughter, Emilia. Mrs Allison is charged with murder.

Mrs Mininni's lawyer, Carmelo Piccolo, said a judge decided that his client should remain in prison at least until an indictment was handed down, probably in September.

Mr Piccolo said the daughter, who suffered from the painful stomach condition toxoplasmosis, had killed herself as part of a suicide pact that the mother did not complete. Mrs Mininni did shoot her daughter, he said, but she did not fire the fatal shots.

"From the first inquests, it seems that the girl was already dead. But the mother did not think so, and fired two more shots," he said. "Preliminary inquests showed that it was a shot to the head that killed the girl, whereas neither of the mother's shots hit the head."

Mrs Mininni had planned to kill herself, but received a phone call from her husband and stopped, Mr Piccolo said.

At the hearing in the coastal city of Bari yesterday, Judge Teresa Liuni said: "I've never seen such a tragic case in my whole career."

The two women, both born in Glasgow, wrote suicide notes after Emilia despaired of finding relief for her untreatable and agonising illness. When Mrs Mininni's husband, Gennaro, was at work in his flour mill, they loaded an unlicensed semi-automatic gun. Then Emilia shot herself in the head.

Reports say she only wounded herself. Her mother told police: "I grabbed the gun and finished her off." She then had planned to turn the gun on herself. But, she said, "I lacked the strength."

Mrs Mininni told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera: "My daughter was ill, very ill. She suffered from unbearable abdominal pains." Two years before, Emilia had tried to end her life by swallowing poison.

"I didn't know what else to do," her mother said. "We chose suicide as a form of euthanasia. But in the end I only had the strength to help her die, and not the courage to follow suit."

The Mininnis, both married before, had met in Scotland and lived in Glasgow for many years. They moved to Altamura eight years ago. But three years later, while studying in Edinburgh, Emilia contracted toxoplasmosis, an infection carried by cats that can also be caught from raw or insufficiently cooked meat.

The symptoms of toxoplasmosis are usually mild in people with healthy immune systems, but in Emilia's case the infection precipitated a rare stomach condition. After exhausting medical resources, the two women decided a suicide pact was the only way out.

Last Friday, alone at home together after writing two letters of explanation and apology, one addressed to Mr Mininni and one to the authorities, they tried to end their common misery.

Neighbours spoke of a quiet, refined, self-enclosed family. "We knew Emilia was sick," said one. "But we never imagined such a thing could happen."

Emilia was buried in the family vault in the town on Saturday after a Mass attended by a few family friends. Armand D'Alonzo, another lawyer for the family, said: "They are destroyed. Nothing led us to think of such an ending for the girl who was trying everything to cure herself."