Mushroom cook pleads not guilty to triple murder

Cassandra Morgan |

Erin Patterson elected not to have a committal, fast-tracking the court process.
Erin Patterson elected not to have a committal, fast-tracking the court process.

Accused triple murderer Erin Patterson’s trial will be fast-tracked after she pleaded not guilty to eight charges.

The 49-year-old faced Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court via video link from prison on Tuesday with her hair tied up, wearing a blue jumper and glasses.

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

All three died in hospital days after consuming an allegedly deadly mushroom meal at Patterson’s Leongatha home, in South Gippsland, on July 29, 2023.

She is also accused of the attempted murder of her ex-husband Simon at the lunch and on three occasions dating back to 2021, and the attempted murder of Ms Wilkinson’s husband Ian, 68.

Heather Wilkinson (left) and Don and Gail Patterson (right)
Heather Wilkinson (left) and Don and Gail Patterson died days after eating a mushroom meal. (HANDOUT/INTRAWORK BUSINESS SERVICES)

Mr Wilkinson spent almost two months being treated in the Austin Hospital, including in a coma.

Patterson was accused of trying to murder her ex-husband at Wilsons Promontory on September 6, 2022, the court was told on Tuesday.

She was also accused of trying to murder him at Howqua, southwest of Mount Buller, between May 25 and 27, 2022, and at Korumburra between November 16 and 17, 2021.

Patterson pleaded not guilty to all eight of her charges on Tuesday, including three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

The 49-year-old told Magistrate Tim Walsh, “not guilty, Your Honour”, as he read each of the charges.

Simon Patterson during the memorial service for Don and Gail Patterson
Patterson is accused of attempting to murder her ex-husband Simon (pictured) four times. (HANDOUT/JESSICA O’DONNELL)

Patterson elected not to have a committal hearing, which could have required Mr Wilkinson to give evidence in the case ahead of it going to trial.

The Baptist pastor returned home from hospital in September in what his family described as a “moment of immense relief”, and stepped out in public at the October memorial service for his wife, Heather, at Korumburra.

A committal would have drawn out the process in Patterson’s case – especially if the court granted her request to have it at Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court.

However, abandoning it meant Patterson would not have the opportunity to have evidence considered or potentially thrown out before trial, or for the public to hear the details of the case.

The purpose of a committal is to test the evidence in a case to see whether it is strong enough to go to trial.

Order of service for Heather Wilkinson (file image)
Ian Wilkinson stepped out in public at the October memorial service for his wife Heather. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

In April, Patterson’s barrister Colin Mandy SC said his client wanted a committal at Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court and would wait in custody if it could not happen until next year.

The defence barrister said Patterson wanted the committal to be held close to her home.

Mr Walsh on Tuesday clarified the committal would have only been so delayed because of Mr Mandy’s availability – not because the court could not hear “a very significant matter” until early or mid-2025.

The case demanded senior counsel in his view, and was not the kind that could be passed over to another barrister on short notice given it had “an extremely voluminous brief”, the magistrate said.

The magistrate remanded Patterson in custody on Tuesday.

Her case is next listed for a directions hearing at the Supreme Court on May 23.