Tears as 'sniper' woman acquitted of murder

By Peter Gregory
March 4, 2006

A WOMAN who shot dead her husband from a "sniper's nest" at their central Victorian property yesterday gasped and burst into tears as she was found not guilty of murder.

Claire Margaret MacDonald, 39, hugged tearful supporters before leaving the Supreme Court with her lawyers.

As her support team spoke about a stunning legal victory, Mrs MacDonald said "I just want to go home", when pursued by reporters.

The jurors deliberated for 1 days before finding the mother of five young children, not guilty of murder and the alternative charge of manslaughter.

One juror appeared to wipe tears from her eyes as she left the court.

The verdict was delivered about five hours after the jurors asked questions in court about the legal concepts of self-defence and "beyond reasonable doubt".

In a 10-day trial, the jurors and Justice Geoffrey Nettle heard that Mrs MacDonald suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse during her 17-year marriage to Warren John MacDonald.

She pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr MacDonald at their Acheron property, known as Breakaway Mountain, on September 30, 2004.

Senior defence counsel James Montgomery said the prosecution had to disprove that Mrs MacDonald acted in self-defence, or under provocation.

Prosecutor Ray Elston, SC, said in opening the trial that Mrs MacDonald lay in wait for 90 minutes before shooting her husband from a "sniper's nest", using a rifle from his extensive gun collection.

According to a recorded interview with police, she wore a camouflage T-shirt and hat, and rubber gloves. She fired six bullets after Mr MacDonald, 40, approached a Land Rover that he had been told had a flat battery.

He died from bullet wounds to his chest, abdomen and head.

Mr Elston said Mrs MacDonald executed her husband in a cold-blooded, calculated and determined way.

In his closing address, Mr Montgomery urged the jurors to acquit Mrs MacDonald.

He said she and the couple's children had been under the domination of a sadistic husband who used fear to control them.

Earlier, the jurors were told Mr MacDonald made his children perform push-ups as punishment, and once said he would shoot the then youngest child if his wife did not shut her up.

Witnesses said Mrs MacDonald had to perform labouring work when heavily pregnant. Mr MacDonald had also threatened to kill his wife if she ever left him.

In a police interview, Mrs MacDonald said she was treated like a slave. She said her husband did not like her having make-up, haircuts or sugar in her tea.

Mrs MacDonald said he humiliated her by making her take his boots off in front of others, and gave her the job of refilling his glass. He abused her verbally, insisted on sex every second night, and used anal sex as punishment, she said.

She said Mr MacDonald treated their eldest son like a "whipping boy" and made her hit their daughters with a "smacking stick", telling her to do it again if it was not hard enough.

Mrs MacDonald said she thought before the shooting that "if I didn't do it now, I would be the one that would be dead". After firing the shots, she walked over to her husband, put her hands on him and "told him how much I hated him, and I hated him for making me do this".

Consultant psychiatrist Danny Sullivan gave evidence that Mrs MacDonald's position in her marriage fitted the psychological term of learned helplessness, in which a person in an abusive relationship believed they could not leave.

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