Wife denies murder over husband's shotgun death

By Martin Halfpenny,Press Association
Monday 22 March 2010 15:23

A wife blasted her husband to death with a shotgun because she claimed he was making her life hell due to his drinking, a court heard today.

Helen Lawson, 62, gave her husband Geoffrey both barrels of the weapon into his chest and abdomen at point-blank range as he lay on their marital bed. He died instantly.

A jury at Winchester Crown Court heard that three-times-married Lawson "snapped" and took the Beretta gun from the cabinet in their Isle of Wight home before going upstairs.

After she put the light on, she called out her husband's name to make sure he was awake before she shot him, the court heard.

The 61-year-old shouted: "Oh, Helen, no" as she fired, jurors were told. She then dropped the weapon at the foot of the bed and went downstairs and dialled 999, telling the operator it was no accident.

The court heard that Lawson was a keen clay pigeon shooter and had a licence for two guns.

When she was told her husband was dead by police, Lawson said: "Good", Nicholas Haggan QC, prosecuting, told the jury.

The couple had only married in 2005 but had known each other longer, buying a house in the village of Wellow when they both retired.

They were financially secure, but by 2008 there were strains in the marriage, Mr Haggan said, over Mr Lawson's drinking and behaviour.

Matters reached a head in the early hours of January 4 last year when the killing took place, the court was told.

Mr Haggan said to the jury that Lawson told the police her husband was "hell to live with because he was an alcoholic".

He added: "She said there had been tensions between the couple for a long time."

She told officers that night Mr Lawson had been drinking and had gone up to bed in a bad mood, the barrister explained.

"She stayed up," Mr Haggan said. "She decided she didn't want to live like that anymore. She collected the keys of the gun cabinet, removed one of the shotguns, loaded it in the kitchen and went upstairs and into the main bedroom.

"She put the light on and called out her husband's name. She said at that point he had opened his eyes and said: 'Oh, Helen, no.' She shot him twice.

"She then dropped the shotgun, went downstairs and called the police."

The blast had shattered all Mr Lawson's major organs, including the heart, the jury heard, as they were shown photographs of the scene.

Mr Haggan said that tests had shown that Mr Lawson was "as good as sober" when he was killed and that his wife admitted she had consumed brandy and wine that night, and this had led her to get the gun.

She told officers in lengthy interviews: "I had had enough. He was hell to live with. He was an alcoholic."

She said her husband's drinking had got worse after a fire on their property, and she had seen him drinking brandy at 9.30am.

Lawson said he was vile when drunk and always blamed her. On two occasions he had slapped her during an argument, but she had slapped him back.

When asked why she got the gun, Lawson replied: "Too much drink really. I really was angry. I never thought about that before, nothing like that.

"I just called his name to make sure he was awake. I was too close to miss him, really."

When asked what her intention was, Lawson told police: "To kill him. I cannot believe I did it, but I know I did. I know I shouldn't have done it. I'm sorry I did it.

"I did love him but it was getting (so that) I hated him more often. How he was acting, how he made me feel. I kept giving him the benefit of the doubt. I knew it was the drink, but he never took any notice."

She told officers that her husband had not been a threat to her and that what she had done was not justified. She said he was a lovely person until he was drunk, when he would switch.

Mr Haggan told the jury that Lawson admitted manslaughter but denied murder.

He said diminished responsibility and provocation would be factors in the trial.

Mr Haggan told the court that the remedy for being in an unhappy marriage was divorce, not taking up a gun.

He said that Lawson was suffering from a mild or moderate depressive illness at the time of the killing, but he alleged her mind was not substantially impaired that night.

He also alleged that Lawson was not provoked.

"The defendant probably was unhappy in her marriage but the alcohol provided what appeared to be a simple solution to her problem... She snapped," Mr Haggan said.

The trial is expected to last eight days.