She killed her abusive fiance, but Marcela Castaneda has walked free from a Sydney court, relieved at being found not guilty of manslaughter.
Initially on trial for murder, the 33-year-old was found not guilty of the lesser charge by an NSW Supreme Court jury after about five hours of deliberations.
The jury were last week directed by Justice Helen Wilson to find her not guilty of the murder of Gregory Peck, her partner of four years, because of a lack of supporting evidence.
Minutes after hearing Thursday’s verdict, Ms Castaneda’s father spoke, thanking his legal team, family and church for their support.
He said the family was grieving with the Pecks over Gregory’s death.
“Our heart goes out,” Mario Castaneda told reporters.
Wearing dark sunglasses and holding her father’s arm, Ms Castaneda was asked if she felt relieved.
“Yes. Thank you,” she said, turning from the microphones to leave court with the family and friends who had supported her throughout the trial.
On the evening of February 22, 2013, Ms Castaneda armed herself with a sharp 15cm knife and tried to lead Mr Peck, 32, from their western Sydney home moments after he had choked her so hard she couldn’t scream.
The American aircraft engineer had been violent with Ms Castaneda before, often while arguing after drinking, and she had just said she wanted him to move out.
The couple had lived together since 2009 and police had been called to their home several times.
On the night he died, Mr Peck turned on Ms Castaneda when she said she wanted to cancel their wedding, which they had already postponed three times.
After being throttled, Ms Castaneda tried to run for the front door but noticed Mr Peck was right behind her.
It was not the first time he had choked or abused her, but her fear grew when he tried to follow her into the kitchen.
“That scared me, because he’d never come after me before. So then when I saw the knife, I just grabbed it,” she told the court.
When she reached the patio, he swore and “lunged” at her in the doorway and the knife Ms Castaneda gripped in her right hand went into the upper left of Mr Peck’s chest.
Ms Castaneda dialled triple zero and urged the operator to send help immediately.
She tried to assist Mr Peck and when paramedics arrived she was found holding a towel to his chest.
His injuries were sustained during an act of self-defence, Phillip Strickland SC, the defence barrister, told the jury during the trial.
“She loved Gregory Peck despite the volatility in their relationship and despite his acts of violence toward her,” he said.
“She had no intention to kill him or cause him serious harm.”