Stephen Parsons, 70, is accused of murdering his wife in Devon after he was found semi-conscious next to her decomposing body last year – with a jury told he had intended to kill his wife

A Devon farmer who smothered his dog breeder wife with a pillow slashed his own arms in an attempt to make her killing look like a suicide pact, a jury has been told.

Stephen Parsons, 70, was found with blood pouring from his forearms on a bed next to the decomposing body of his wife Erica, who may have been dead for more than 24 hours. He left suicide notes saying his wife was dying of cancer and had asked him to end her life and he told police that he had ‘let her down’ by not killing himself.

A jury at Exeter Crown Court has been told that he intended to kill his wife, that the suicide pact was a ‘façade’ and that 69-year-old Erica did not have cancer and was not seriously ill. She was a prominent breeder of English Setter dogs who was secretary of the Southern Pointer Society and had been making plans for the up-coming Crufts Dog Show in the days before her death in February last year.

The couple lived at a farm on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon where they kept four horses as well as about 25 dogs – but they had run into serious financial hardship. Parson, of Cadditon Farm at Bondleigh, near Okehampton, denies murder but has admitted manslaughter.

Miss Jo Martin, KC, prosecuting, said Parsons texted farmer Alex Daniels shortly after midday on February 11, 2023, and wrote ‘By the time you read this, we will be dead,’ and asking him to look after their horses. He found Parsons semi-conscious in a bedroom with cuts to both arms and a Stanley knife on a bedside table.

Erica was dead beside him under a cover with a single sheet of kitchen paper over her face. Paramedics found Parsons had a deep wound on one arm and superficial one to the other, neither of which were life-threatening. He told the paramedics he did not want help. He said: “I do not deserve help. It was not meant to end like this. We were meant to go together. I don’t want your help. I have let her down. She will be disappointed in me. This was not the plan.”

Miss Martin said Parsons told police he had taken an overdose of ibuprofen and diabetes tablets, but blood tests showed this was not the case. He had also made arrangements for friends to collect the couples’ pointers and told them that his been seriously ill with cancer. He said she had a large and growing cancerous lump on her back, was passing blood, was unable to swallow and was drinking up to four bottles of gin a week. His suicide notes described their financial troubles as terrible and ‘they had agreed to depart together’.

Miss Martin said it is not in dispute that Parsons killed Erica by smothering her with a pillow but that police inquiries uncovered no evidence that she intended to take her own life. A post-mortem examination showed she did not have cancer, had drunk less than the drink-drive limit for alcohol and emails she sent in the days before her death showed her making plans for the future, including arrangements for Crufts.

There were no internet searches relating to suicide. Miss Martin said the couple were heavily in debt and there is evidence that Parsons had lied about illness and even the death of his wife to fob off debt collectors. She said: “The prosecution say this was not a suicide pact. Parsons killed his wife either on the evening of February 9 or more probably the morning of February 10. He did so not because she wanted to die or because she was terminally ill, but because he was struggling and in debt and because of his own circumstances.

“Over the next two days he tried to create a façade that this was a suicide pact. It is clear he had the ability to think rationally and to prepare a story and contact other people, but not telling them of Erica’s death. He planned to get away with killing his wife.” The trial continues.

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