New wife 'panicked' when she burnt husband alive, court told

A Victorian woman acted in panic rather than wickedness when she burnt her new husband alive, a court has heard.

Patrick Plumbe, 60, was killed one day after making his wife Margaret Vandergulik the sole beneficiary of his $1 million superannuation fund and only two days after their wedding.

His charred body was found behind the steering wheel of his burnt-out ute on a track near Wangaratta in north-east Victoria on April 28, 2005.

Vandergulik, 61, who tried to cover up the crime by shooting herself in the arm, pleaded guilty last month to Mr Plumbe's manslaughter.

Crown prosecutor Peter Rose, SC, told a pre-sentence hearing today Mr Plumbe was alive when his ute was set on fire.

But Vandergulik's barrister Ian Hill SC said his client, a nurse of more than 30 years, thought she had killed Mr Plumbe when she struck him during an argument.

"Her actions reveal panic rather than wickedness," Mr Hill told the Victorian Supreme Court sitting in Wangaratta.

"Malice is nowhere to be found.

"Mrs Vandergulik, believing her husband was deceased, failed to adequately confirm that fact."

Mr Hill told the court her actions were "spontaneous".

"It was not until well after shooting herself that she came to learn of the terrible error that she had made, that in fact Mr Plumbe was still alive when the car was consumed by fire," he said.

The court heard at least one person helped Vandergulik get an unconscious Mr Plumbe into the ute after their argument.

Mr Rose said Vandergulik staged a crash by placing a weight on the accelerator pedal so the ute would smash into a tree, the court heard.

The ute was then set alight.

Mr Rose said soot was found on Mr Plumbe's lungs, indicating he was alive when the ute caught fire.

Vandergulik now faces massive compensation payouts after eight claims were made against her by Mr Plumbe's family, his super fund and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC).

Outside the court, Mr Plumbe's brother Terry Plumbe said he hoped to get whatever compensation he could.

"He had just retired and had 20 or 30 years left, she took all his money and took his life," Mr Plumbe said.

"I want to get anything I can get out of this, (after) what she has done to us."

After his death, Vandergulik received Mr Plumbe's superannuation and a $A90,000 ($NZ104,944) payout from the TAC, as a victim of road trauma, the court heard.

Mr Plumbe's niece Angelina Plumbe said her uncle was a good man.

"He was a real person, he was our uncle, our brother and he was a good guy," she said outside court.

Justice Murray Kellam will sentence Vandergulik, formerly of Kialla, near Shepparton, on a date to be fixed.

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