Husband killed wife while on bail

Rajeshwar Singh during his sentencing for the murder of his estranged wife Sarwan Lata. Photo: NZ Herald/Mark Mitchell
Rajeshwar Singh during his sentencing for the murder of his estranged wife Sarwan Lata. Photo: NZ Herald/Mark Mitchell
Wellington man Rajeshwar Singh will spend at least 16 years behind bars for murdering his estranged wife while he was on bail for breaching a protection order she had taken against him.

In the High Court at Wellington this morning, Justice Ronald Young sentenced Singh to a mandatory life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 16 years, and a concurrent sentence of three months' jail for breaching two protection orders.

Singh, 47, a taxi driver, pleaded guilty in May to killing Sarwan Lata and two charges of breaching protection orders.

In November last year, he stabbed her to death after bypassing her Woodridge home's new locks and an elaborate warning system of vases and chairs that a fearful Ms Lata had laid.

He had been granted bail the previous month while facing a charge of breaching a protection order. The order prevented him from seeing her or being near her house, but he had been constantly near her home in the weeks leading up to the murder.

Justice Young said a probation officer report showed Singh had a deeply worrying attitude to women.

"You considered that you were entitled to kill her . . . You had a callous disregard for your wife, and her family," Justice Young said.

"You did not understand, or did not appreciate, that men do not control women. Your wife was perfectly entitled to not live with you."

Aggravating factors included the home invasion - in breach of bail conditions and a protection order - and that the murder was planned. He had also been stalking her before the murder.

"You went there for the express purpose of killing her. You killed your wife because she did not do as you wanted."

He noted Singh's early guilty plea.

Crown lawyer Ian Murray said it was another example of the "scourge of serious domestic violence" in New Zealand.

"[Singh] smashed his way into the house and immediately set about ending the victim's life. The events were recorded on a 111 call, which showed what a brutal killing this was."

Ms Lata was so afraid of Singh that she slept with a knife under a pillow and a meat cleaver under her bed. She changed the locks of her house and built an elaborate obstacle course of vases and chairs as a warning system if Singh tried to get to her.

The couple had come together in an arranged marriage in Fiji in 1991 and moved to New Zealand in 1998. The couple had a son who suffered from muscular dystrophy and died in 2011.

Police said the couple had a long history of physical and mental abuse. There were nine reported incidents of family violence since September 2003, and countless unreported incidents during their 22 years of marriage.

In September 2008, the Porirua District Court granted Ms Lata a protection order against her husband on the basis of an attack that month. Singh received two formal warnings for breaching the protection order in August 2012 and February 2013.

In October 2013, he made 38 abusive and threatening phone calls to her over 26 minutes. He was arrested and was granted bail on condition that he not contact Lata, or go to her house.

Lata feared for her life and changed the locks on the front and garage doors, and would have done more if she could have afforded it. She placed a number of large vases inside the front door, and chairs in front of the door leading to the garage to warn her if Singh had entered the house.

In the weeks before the murder, Singh's taxi GPS showed that he parked beside Ms Lata's car in the carpark at Johnsonville supermarket carpark, where she worked, and also drove near her house.

The day before he killed her, he bought a knife with a 20cm blade and some rope, and drank kava, a traditional island drink that acts as a sedative and anaesthetic.

Just after midnight on November 26, Singh jumped a fence an bypassed the locks, chairs and vases by breaking the glass of the ranch slider that led directly to the bedroom. He reached through the broken glass, unlocked the door, and stabbed her several times in the chest. She had cuts on her arms and her left hand as she tried to defend herself.

She managed to dial 111, and the line was open for 93 seconds. As well as recording her screams as they became weaker and weaker, Singh was heard saying repeatedly in Hindi: "It is causing you pain, isn't it?"

Afterwards, he tried to kill himself but police arrived and revived him. They found a suicide note in his pocket.

Singh's lawyer, Rob Stevens, said Singh suffered from depression at the time of offending - though he noted that this did not reduce culpability.

Psychiatric reports indicated he was suffering from depression since the death of his son in 2011, including anxiety, distress and low mood after separating from his wife.

"At the time he was not thinking clearly, and could not see any other way out of his situation."

Singh has since expressed remorse for "the terrible thing that he did".

Justice Young noted the impact on the victim's family.

"They have struggled to cope with her death. I wish to acknowledge today their deep hurt.

"I do not accept that the remorse that is expressed in the latest [psychiatric] report is of a nature that would justify a reduction in sentence."

- Derek Cheng of APNZ

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