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Jury Acquits Woman Accused of Poisoning Scientist Boyfriend

April 19, 1996

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) _ A biologist dumped by her lover of seven years for a younger woman was acquitted Friday of poisoning him with one of her wares _ a chemical little known outside scientific circles.

``Thank you″ was all Victoria Calder said as she stepped from the defendant’s dock in Christchurch High Court.

The verdict ended a sensational trial but not the mystery that began it _ the cause of the illness that has left David Lloyd blind and paralyzed.

``If he was poisoned, it was not by my hand,″ Calder told reporters later Friday.

In December 1992, six months after Lloyd, 58, dumped Calder, 46, for a younger scientist from Canada, he was hospitalized with a baffling illness.

Prosecutors said Calder gave Lloyd, himself a botanist, two massive doses of a toxic polymer called acrylamide, the second as he lay in his hospital bed, fighting for his life.

Stocks of the poison, which attacks the nervous and immune systems as well as DNA, are kept in a refrigerator in Calder’s laboratory at the Christchurch School of Medicine.

Much of the trial centered on the substance’s effect on humans, which is not completely understood. There have been only two confirmed cases of acrylamide poisoning worldwide.

A jury of seven men and five women deliberated 10 hours Friday before clearing Calder of charges of attempted murder and poisoning.

It was the second time she had faced the charges. A long and complex trial in the same court last year ended in a hung jury.

Prosecutors portrayed Calder as a vengeful woman, ``hellbent″ on destroying Lloyd and his new love.

During the seven-week trial, Calder’s friends and colleagues testified that she took the breakup badly. She tore up his clothes, smeared dog excrement on his door step and had talked of untraceable poisons.

But Calder’s lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr, contended Lloyd was the victim of a mysterious virus followed by rampant secondary infection, which damaged his nervous system.

The case captivated Christchurch, a small city on New Zealand’s South Island. Loud sighs went up from the packed public gallery when the verdict was read by the jury’s foreman.

Lloyd’s family said they were ``shocked and dismayed″ by the outcome. The illness ended his scientific career.

He breathes with a respirator and speaks through a throat implant and voice synthesizer. And he’s been hospitalized four times with life-threatening pneumonia.

Lloyd was an internationally recognized botanist at Canterbury University who lived with Calder more than six years. Shortly after ending the affair, he proposed to Canadian scientist Linda Newstrom, now his wife.

Calder could have faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison had she been convicted.

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