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Woman accused of killing ex-husband’s parents by feeding them poisonous mushrooms appears in court | World News

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A woman accused of killing her ex-husband’s parents and an aunt by feeding them a beef wellington laced with poisonous mushrooms has appeared in court.

Erin Patterson made a brief appearance at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court by video link from a prison in Melbourne, Australia, where she has been held since she was arrested in November last year.

The 49-year-old mother of two has been charged with three counts of murder and five of attempted murder.

Magistrate Tim Walsh said during the hearing on Monday that he will announce on 7 May whether Patterson will face a committal hearing in the same court in Morwell or in Melbourne.

Morwell is a rural town near Patterson’s home about 150km (90 miles) east of Melbourne, the Victoria state capital.

The committal hearing will determine whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to put charges before a jury in a trial at the Supreme Court of Victoria.

It was Patterson’s second court appearance on the charges.

She has yet to enter any pleas and has not applied to be released on bail.

Erin Patterson appears in Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court on 3 November 2023. Pic: AP
Image:
Erin Patterson appears at Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court on 3 November 2023. Pic: AP

Patterson is accused of killing her former parents-in-law, Don and Gail Patterson, both 70, and Gail Patterson’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, 66.

All three died in hospital days after consuming a meal at Patterson’s home in Leongatha in Victoria in July last year.

Ian and Heather Wilkinson
Pic:The Salvation Army Australia - Museum
Image:
Ian and Heather Wilkinson. Pic: The Salvation Army Australia – Museum

She is also accused of the attempted murder of Ms Wilkinson’s husband Reverend Ian Wilkinson, 68.

Reverend Wilkinson spent seven weeks in hospital following the lunch.

Police said the symptoms of all four of those who became ill were consistent with poisoning from wild Amanita phalloides, known as death cap mushrooms – which are responsible for 90% of all toxic mushroom-related fatalities.

What makes death cap mushrooms so lethal?

The death cap is one of the most toxic mushrooms on the planet and is involved in the majority of fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide.

The species contains three main groups of toxins: amatoxins, phallotoxins, and virotoxins.

From these, amatoxins are primarily responsible for the toxic effects in humans.

The alpha-amanitin amatoxin has been found to cause protein deficit and ultimately cell death, although other mechanisms are thought to be involved.

The liver is the main organ that fails due to the poison, but other organs are also affected, most notably the kidneys.

The effects usually begin after a short latent period and can include gastrointestinal disorders followed by jaundice, seizures, coma, and eventually, death.

Patterson is further accused of the attempted murder of her ex-husband, Simon Patterson, at that lunch and on three previous occasions dating back to 2021.

He had not accepted an invitation to the lunch.

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Detectives are seen searching Erin Patterson's property in November last year. Pic: AP
Image:
Detectives searching Erin Patterson’s property in November last year. Pic: AP

In court Walsh asked if Patterson could hear at the outset of the hearing, and she replied: “Yes, thank you.”

Her lawyer, Colin Mandy, said his client wanted the committal hearing held in Morwell, even if that meant a delay until next year.

“If it happens next year, then Ms Patterson’s content to wait for that,” Mr Mandy told the magistrate.

He added Patterson said she wanted the hearing to take place close to her home.

Defence lawyers have provided prosecutors with a list of anticipated witnesses to be called at the committal.

Mr Mandy said he expected the hearing would last three weeks.

The potential maximum sentence in Victoria for murder is life imprisonment, and for attempted murder is 25 years in prison.

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