A debt-ridden nephew who tried to kill his aunt and make it look like a suicide after stealing £10,000 from her has been jailed for eight years.
James Duut, 32, tried to drug Patricia McDonnell, 62, before strangling her and smothering her with a pillow in a brutal attack on December 11 last year.
After leaving her for dead, calculating Duut then prepared the scene to make it look like his aunt had taken her own life by scattering 50 tablets on the floor of a hotel bathroom.
Believing she was dead, Duut locked her inside the bathroom, hung a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on his aunt’s door and unplugged the phone to delay the time her body was discovered.
Birmingham Crown Court heard Duut copied the tricks from an American murder case where the killer tried to make his victim’s death look like a suicide.
But hours later Ms McDonnell regained consciousness and staff forced their way in after hearing her screams for help and she was rushed to hospital.
The terrifying attack took place at the Ramada Hotel, Sutton Coldfield, West Mids.- the same hotel which was used for filming the Channel 4 series Crossroads.
Duut, who initially denied the offence, was jailed indefinitely after changing his plea to guilty at an earlier hearing.
Judge Paul Farrer QC ordered him to serve at least eight years before he being eligible for parole.
He told him: “I have to sentence you for what amounts to a premeditated and carefully planned attempt to murder someone who both loved and trusted you.
“Patricia McDonnell is your aunt, she helped to bring you up, she was close to you and was prepared to confide in you.
“It must have been obvious to you that sooner or later she was going to discover your thefts. You planned to make it look like suicide.
“I have no doubt that you believed you had killed her. The victim here was somebody who trusted you and therefore allowed you into her room.
“This attack was carefully planned. You are undoubtedly a highly manipulative individual prepared to resort to extreme violence to achieve your ends.”
The court heard jobless Duut, who was #60,000 in debt, had stolen a total of #10,050 from his aunt’s account just a month before the attempted murder after offering to help her sort out insurance when her house was damaged in a fire.
Divorcee Ms McDonnell was taken to Birmingham’s Good Hope Hospital where she was treated for severe red bruising around her face, neck and back.
Tests also found traces of codeine and diazepam in her blood.
A medical expert said the injuries suggested Ms McDonnell had been strangled for between 15-20 seconds – with 30 seconds widely accepted as enough to kill someone.
They also said Duut, who lived in Erdington, Birmingham, tried to block her mouth and nasal passage, possibly with a pillow.
The court heard he had researched suicide methods online in the three days leading up to trying to kill Ms McDonnell and had planned to murder her to cover up his #10,000 theft.
Hotel records show callous Duut, who had arranged to visit his aunt at the hotel, entered her suite on December 11 after having a cigarette with her at 10.40am.
After attempting to drug his aunt by giving her a cup of tea laced with sleeping aid Nytol, he strangled Ms McDonnell from behind on her bed after offering to give her a massage.
The court heard the next thing Ms McDonnell remembered was waking up in the locked bathroom feeling like she had suffered a heart attack.
She was only discovered at 2.20pm when a hotel maid heard her cries for help.
David Jackson, prosecuting, said: “He offered to give her a massage, something he hadn’t done since he was a young boy.
“The next thing she remembers is being laid on her back on the floor with him sitting over her with his hands on her throat.
“She remembers shouting at him to ‘stop it, please stop it’ and trying to kick out.
“And the next thing she recalls is waking up on the bathroom floor soaking wet. She must have been unconscious for three hours.
“She was wet through, very cold, wearing just her underwear. There was an empty glass on the floor and several empty blister packets of prescription tablets strewn across the floor.
“She was in extreme pain and she was gagging and vomiting. She thought she had had a heart attack or a stroke.”
Remarkably, just hours after thinking he had murdered his aunt, callous Duut went on a lavish spending spree with his gay partner.
The court heard Duut emptied the remaining £3,400 out of his aunt’s bank account before driving to Bicester Village, an upmarket shopping centre in Oxfordshire, where he spent #2,500 on clothes.
He then returned to Birmingham the same night and checked into the plush Radisson Hotel – before going out drinking with his partner, who knew nothing about the attempted murder.
Duut spent £144 on one round of cocktails before the couple returned to the hotel at midnight.
Cops swooped on the hotel and arrested Duut at 2.20am on December 12 as his partner was asleep.
Officers investigated Duut’s mobile phone which revealed searches of a case in America where a woman had been found dead with tablets spread around her body and the death had been declared suicide.
Gary Bell QC, defending, described the offence as “a bizarre episode of madness” by a man with “some psychopathic tendencies”.
He added: “He has to go to prison. He wants to rebuild his life and get back to being a positive member of society.”
Duut, who has short black hair and wore a blue and white checked shirt, showed no emotion throughout the sentencing.