Mary Donnelly. Photo / NZ Police
The family of an intellectually disabled woman strangled
in her Upper Hutt home say they will be haunted by her "evil"
murder at the hands of a former neighbour.
Mary Donnelly, 38, was found dead in her Ebdentown St flat by
her sister on August 30, 2012.
Former neighbour Kharn Tamaka, 29, was sentenced by Justice
Ronald Young in the High Court at Wellington today to life
imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 12 years.
Tamaka earlier pleaded guilty to murder.
Ms Donnelly had lived independently with family support and
weekly check-ups from a caregiver. She was last seen with
Tamaka at her flat the day before her body was found.
A victim impact statement from cousin Helen Moore - read
aloud in court by Crown prosecutor Emma Light - said the
family was reeling in disbelief that someone with special
needs would be killed in such a brutal manner.
The "evil" murder would haunt them forever, and no words
could explain the "sheer, cold horror" the family had been
In her statement, sister Donna Donnelly said the murder had
destroyed the family. Their elderly mother, aged in her 70s,
could no longer talk about Mary.
Ms Donnelly was described as soft and gentle in nature with a
friendly, fun-loving personality.
She had a speech impediment, but that did not stop her
pursuing her biggest passion of singing at a local karaoke
club. She also painted and had won a local award for her art.
Justice Young said Tamaka had offered no explanation for the
"It is no exaggeration to say that this was a shocking
murder. It is hard to understand why you killed this young
He said Tamaka had lived next to Ms Donnelly in 2011 and the
two had known each other.
On the day before her body was found, CCTV footage showed him
following her at the Upper Hutt train station.
A neighbour then saw him in Ms Donnelly's Ebdentown St flat
about 5.30pm. Tamaka said he would leave, and was later heard
knocking at the door about 11pm.
Justice Young said Tamaka had killed Ms Donnelly by putting
his hand or forearm across her throat and applying
Tamaka then attempted to disguise the events and dispose of
Justice Young pointed to aggravating features, including Ms
Donnelly's vulnerability due to her intellectual disability,
and a "sexual element" to her killing.
A psychiatric report painted a bleak picture of Tamaka's
troubled past and history of previous offending.
He was deprived of oxygen at birth, which had left him with a
degree of intellectual impairment. He had also suffered
violence, sexual and emotional abuse, and substance abuse.
His previous convictions included dishonesty, indecent
assault and injuring with intent.
Defence lawyer Kevin Preston said Tamaka had a "constellation
of problems" but was motivated to improve and change his
He regretted what he had done, and wanted to meet Ms
Donnelly's family, but respected that they did not want to.
- Matthew Backhouse of APNZ