Husband jailed over attempted ‘mercy killing’

An Edinburgh pensioner who tried to kill his disabled wife by smothering her with a pillow has been jailed for attempted murder.

  • Watch a STV report of this incident
  • After failing to kill his wife John Millar, 67, tried to claim it would have been a mercy killing, saying: “I thought it would be a good thing to do at the time… for both of us”.

    The case appears to confirm the fears of those who say that any relaxation of the laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia would endanger the lives of vulnerable people.


    Mr Millar attempted to smother Phyllis Millar to death on 28 June last year when he walked into their bedroom and asked his wife if she wanted to live.

    Mrs Millar, who suffers from the neurological condition multiple sclerosis, said that she didn’t wish to die, but despite her will to live Mr Millar later returned to the bedroom and attempted to kill her.

    Critics have previously warned that any relaxation of the current law would make it difficult to detect cases of foul play in so-called mercy killings because the key witness would be dead.


    During the trial advocate depute Leanne Cross said that Mrs Millar had never told her husband that she wanted her life to end, and had never asked him to help her die.

    In passing sentence on Mr Millar, Judge Lady Smith said: “On 28 June 2009, though, far from acting in a caring fashion towards your wife, without provocation and for no apparent reason, you quite deliberately tried to kill her.

    “Preying on her vulnerability, you picked up a pillow and held it over her face in an attack which lasted for about 5 minutes.”


    “Fortunately your wife was able to get one of her hands between her face and the pillow so as to enable her to breathe and to shout for you to stop. You eventually did so.”

    The couple have known each other for 13 years, and married in 2008 after living together for some time.

    Mr Millar has been sentenced to a four and a half year custodial period, and he will be kept under supervision for a further two and a half years after his prison sentence.


    Earlier this year a woman who attempted to smother her seriously ill husband to death, despite his objections, ended her life in a Swiss suicide clinic.

    The 1999 trial of Vicki Wood, who died at the Dignitas facility in March, was seen as a watershed in the nation’s debate on assisted suicide.

    During the trial a High Court Judge heard how the couple lay in bed together, listening to Beethoven and eating doughnuts, when Mrs Wood attempted to smother her husband using a pillow.


    But the murder attempt failed when her husband, Tim Wood, began to struggle, complaining that he couldn’t breathe, and fell out of bed.

    Mr Wood, who broke his hip falling out of the bed, fought for his life, saying “Sweetie, I can’t breathe”.

    Mrs Wood was sentenced to two years probation for the 1999 attack.

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