Victim hails 'hero' wife after Countdown stabber jailed

One of the victims of the Dunedin supermarket stabbing has paid tribute to his wife after she was wounded while trying to save him.

Luke James Lambert (43) was jailed for 13 years on four counts of attempted murder following the "frenzied and persistent" attack on May 10 last year.

Justice Jonathan Eaton also imposed a non-parole period of six and a-half years before the High Court at Dunedin this afternoon.

Luke James Lambert appears for sentencing in the High Court at Dunedin today. Photo: Gregor...
Luke James Lambert appears for sentencing in the High Court at Dunedin today. Photo: Gregor Richardson

Corrections officer Jorge Fuenzalida narrowly survived the episode after hearing a scream and confronting the knife-wielding Lambert.

Outside court today, he praised his wife Vanessa Miller-Andrews after she too was badly injured.

‘‘If my wife hadn’t intervened [to stop] the attacker from stabbing me, I would be dead. She’s my hero," Mr Fuenzalida said.

He baulked at the idea he too was a hero.

‘‘You don't do these things for the glory. You do these things because we're human beings,’’ Mr Fuenzalida said.

‘‘Somebody cried for help, I went in. And I tried to do whatever I could do to save them."

His wife worried Lambert was capable of inflicting further random violence.

"Luke is a dangerous man and needs to be off the streets for the safety of the public. I’m concerned when he’s released he’ll have another day and history will repeat itself," she said.

Another victim, a staff member who was granted permanent name suppression, was stabbed just half an hour from the end of her shift and was now scarred for life.

"The thing that really gets me is the offender singled me out – a woman; a woman with my back turned . . . completely vulnerable. He didn’t choose a man his size, he chose me," she said.

The woman, though, said she pitied Lambert.

"I just hope you get the help that you need. But I’m not angry at you, and I forgive you," she said.

Lambert first entered Countdown Dunedin Central shortly after midday and tried to buy two cans of beer but his card declined.

An associate saw him in the Octagon "agitated and pacing around" and he claimed he was not being given his medication - a suggestion refuted by subsequent enquiries by police.

"Someone is going to get it," the defendant said.

The CCTV footage of the incident was suppressed from public dissemination by Justice Eaton today but he allowed it to be played for media after the sentencing.

It clarified just how incredibly quickly the incident unfolded.

The video showed Lambert walk purposely down the pharmacy aisle, sidestepping a woman with two young children and calmly opening a multi-pack of knives.

Jorge Fuenzalida and his wife Vanessa Miller-Andrews outside the Dunedin Courthouse on Tuesday...
Jorge Fuenzalida and his wife Vanessa Miller-Andrews outside the Dunedin Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Gregor Richardson
He took off his back-pack and strode over to a nearby Countdown staff member, armed with two of them.

Putting his hand on her shoulder, Lambert spun her around and inflicted the first of many injuries, slicing the left side of her face.

As he pushed her backwards, he deliberately tripped her and the pair went crashing to the floor, sending a display shelf crashing over.

The victim tried to protect herself while Lambert continued the stabbing frenzy and the first of many shoppers jumped in to attempt to end the violence.

One of the store’s senior managers Dallas Wilson pulled the defendant off his colleague but appeared unaware he was being stabbed in the process.

When Lambert broke away, he turned his attention on Mr Fuenzalida and his wife, alternating his slashing between the two of them.

Within seconds two off-duty police officers entered the fray.

A woman, assisted by store staff pinned Lambert down with a chair while a male officer threw bottles of cleaning products at the man’s head in a desperate bid to subdue him.

The female officer, in a statement released by police, said she was alerted to the mayhem by "the type of screaming that makes your stomach sink".

"I could see the offender and I initially thought he was punching at people due to how fast he was moving his arms but then I saw the knife in his right hand. He had a knife in each hand at that point and I realised he was stabbing people. He was intentionally going for people’s necks," she said.

The magnitude of the violence quickly became clear as blood covered large areas of the floor and visibly pooled under Mr Fuenzalida as first aid is frantically applied.

The whole incident was over in less than 90 seconds.

Justice Eaton said the CCTV of the incident made it "abundantly clear" that had it not been for the interventions of the victims and those who provided first aid, the attack would have been fatal.

The question remained: why did he do it?

Several people reported Lambert speaking about witches in the immediate aftermath and he told one person that they had told him to "make a blood bath".

Later, the defendant said he could not remember his actions, had no suicidal idea and no views on witches.

He told Probation that the death of his mother in 2018 and the subsequent deaths of his dogs was a significant turning point in his life.

"Ultimately it’s just not possible to make a determinative finding as to the motivation for this offending," said Justice Eaton.

"Your offending shocked the nation . . . that no one was killed was miraculous."

Defence counsel John Westgate accepted there was a degree of premeditation in attacking the first victim but that the other attacks were "just a reactive man out of control".

That characterisation was not accepted by the judge, who said he had no doubt there would have been more injuries or potentially deaths had the man not been stopped.

Mr Westgate stressed Lambert, who had no violence convictions, was suffering from severe mental-health issues at the time of the events.

Mr Westgate said the violence was not personal.

"On that day he snapped . . . he was at a crisis point," he said.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter