Evelyn Marie Martens trial

 

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B.C. woman at suicide of former nun says experience was surreal

Dirk Meissner  Canadian Press October 14, 2004


DUNCAN, B.C. (CP) - A woman who attended a former nun's suicide described Thursday how she took the woman's cat out of the room because the animal seemed to know her owner was going to die.

Brenda Hurn, who described the experience as surreal, said one moment she was sipping coffee with a woman who was about to kill herself and the next she picked up the cat.

Hurn testified she was in Monique Charest's Duncan apartment on Jan. 7, 2002, when the 64-year-old woman committed suicide.

"I was there and then part of the time I was kind of far away," Hurn told the seven-woman, five-man B.C. Supreme Court jury. "It was kind of a strange feeling. Surreal. There, but not there."

Evelyn Marie Martens, 74, of Victoria faces two charges of helping two women commit suicide - Charest and Vancouver school teacher Leyanne Burchell.

It is not illegal to commit suicide in Canada, but helping a person take their own life is against the law.

Martens, who has pleaded not guilty to both charges, faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail if convicted.

The trial, which started Tuesday, is expected to last another two weeks.

Hurn, 82, testifying as a witness for the Crown, said she and Martens have been friends for more than a decade and both women are members of the Right to Die Society of Canada, an organization that supports assisted suicide and is seeking to change Canada's law preventing assisted suicides.

Hurn said she and Martens travelled to Duncan, about 60 kilometres north of Victoria, knowing they were going to visit a woman who was going to end her life.

She said she had been a supporter of assisted suicide for years, but the trip to Duncan gave her the opportunity "to consummate my belief in what the (Right to Die) society was doing."

Over coffee, Charest told the two other women she wanted to end a life of physical and emotional pain, Hurn said.

Charest said she'd been abused by her mother as a child. She said she suffered abuse again later in life after she quit her life as a nun and left the convent.

"We learned a lot about her life that day," Hurn said.

She said she was happy the two women were there to help her end her life, but because of her religious convictions which prohibit suicide she wanted her death to appear as if it were from natural causes.

Charest asked the two women to take something from her apartment as a keepsake, Hurn said.

Martens took a doll and Hurn took a cup and saucer, she said.

Martens brought an athletic-type bag to Charest's home to remove a helium tank and a plastic bag and hose used as suicide tools, Hurn said.

Charest told the two women she was taking morphine to relieve serious back pain and she feared recurring seizures could put her in hospital for the rest of her life, she said.

Dr. Philip Kerswell said he had been treating Charest for several years, but none of her medical conditions were terminal. She suffered from an underactive thyroid, an indigestion condition and serious back pain, he said.

Hurn said Charest signalled the moment when she wanted the suicide to commence.

She ate apple sauce, followed by sleep-inducing pills and alcohol, and then sat down, said Hurn.

Charest then put a plastic bag on her head, said Hurn, who did not see her pull it down over her head because she had taken the cat to the bedroom and then had to use the washroom because her stomach was upset.

"I guess I was in a mild shock," said Hurn, who recalled patting the top of Charest's shoulder.

Charest used a helium tank and a plastic bag the size of a kitchen garbage bag, with a hose attached, to end her life, she said.

Crown prosecutor Neil MacKenzie told the court in his opening remarks Tuesday the plastic bags are known as exit bags. They come equipped with a hose and a Velcro collar for a snug fit.

Martens was arrested on June 26, 2002, shortly after driving off a ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island near Victoria.

Burchell's body was discovered in her Vancouver apartment June 26, 2002.

Undercover RCMP officers observed Martens visit Burchell, 52, on the day she died, MacKenzie said.


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