After an arduous 19 months, British pensioner David Hunter was on Friday found guilty of manslaughter.

The news was met with a wave of relief across the packed courtroom in Paphos court, as friends, family and the defence team feared Hunter, now 76, would have been found guilty of premeditated murder instead.

The charge would have meant a life sentence for Hunter in prison.

“We’re ecstatic about the result. He would have died in prison had he been found guilty of premeditated murder,” his lawyer Michael Polak told reporters after the decision was announced.

Hunter appeared in court looking harrowingly skinny, clad in a black t-shirt and jeans was relieved with the result, hugging his lawyers and shaking their hands in a warm embrace. Polak said Hunter had been very anxious ahead of the verdict but was “very shocked” upon hearing the decision.

The three-member judges took their decision unanimously, and said the prosecution did not prove beyond unreasonable doubt that Hunter did not plan the killing. Hunter suffocated his wife Janice to death in December 2021, when she was 74 at the time. He has always maintained he did this to put an end to her suffering.

“We accept Hunter’s motive was to relieve his wife from the suffering that came with the condition of her health,” said judge Michalis Droussiotis, presiding at the three-bench Criminal Court.

“The way the accused acted at the material time does not show premeditation for his illegal act, but on the contrary, an impulsive act without a clear mind,” he added.

Nonetheless, the killing was a crime and as such was met with the verdict of manslaughter.

State prosecutor Andreas Hadjikyrou said “we respect the decision of the court,” specifying that although manslaughter can also come with a life sentence, “the facts of the case do not point to that direction.”

He added the attorney-general will be reviewing the decision before deciding on any other measures. He did not rule out filing an appeal over the decision “but this does not mean we will file one.”

One of Hunter’s friends, Barry Kent, aged 67 who flew over from the UK to be there with him, said “it’s almost like life floating along. We’re so relieved,” he said visibly happy as he feared Hunter would have been behind bars for the rests of his life.

Hunter’s neighbours, who drove from Paphos to support Hunter and earlier said they were very scared about the outcome, were beaming with joy after the verdict was read out.

Reading out the decision, the judge said it could not be conclusively proved that Hunter had premeditated the murder. Nonetheless, murdering his wife, despite the circumstances was an illegal act.

The judges also said they did not doubt Hunter’s testimony before the court, saying “he had no reason to lie because quite simply, had police not arrived at the scene, he too would have been dead and not been on trial here.”

Hunter, after suffocating his wife to death, took “every pill in the house” and a bottle of alcohol to kill himself. His attempt to kill himself was thwarted after his brother – whom he called after killing Janice – informed British police which in turn alerted Interpol in Cyprus.

“The overall conclusion is that Hunter’s decision to cover Janice’s mouth and nose, which is illegal act, led to her death. There is no proof of premeditation,” the judge said.

Reading out the decision, the judges also referred to the statement put forth by Dr. Ourania Seimeni when she testified in May, saying Janice Hunter, was not in fact terminally ill with leukemia but instead had MDS – a type of blood cancer.

Nonetheless, the judges unilaterally agreed that whether Janice was terminally ill or not, was secondary to the fact that both Hunter and his wife believed that Janice was dying. Their fears were also impacted by the fact that Janice’s sister had suffered – and eventually died of leukemia.

Court will convene again on July 27 for mitigation pleas surrounding the sentencing. Polak said they were preparing arguments to seek a suspended sentence for Hunter.

Nonetheless, Hunter has said he wants to stay in Cyprus so he can be near his wife, and be able to visit her grave, which he has not yet managed to do.

His daughter Lesley Cawthorne, told Sky News: “I’m incredibly relieved that it’s manslaughter rather than murder.

“It’s the best we could have hoped for in the circumstances and I really hope the judges can extend their compassion and be lenient in their sentencing.”