Grace Millane's killer sentenced to life in prison

Grace Millane was in New Zealand as part of her overseas holiday. Photo: supplied
Grace Millane was in New Zealand as part of her overseas holiday. Photo: supplied
Warning: This story and related coverage of the trial contain graphic details that may be distressing for some readers.

The man who killed British backpacker Grace Millane has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 17 years.

The now 28-year-old, who still cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty and convicted last November.

This morning he has been led into the dock, flanked by two court security guards. He will be sentenced by Justice Simon Moore in the High Court at Auckland.

After being sentenced he left the dock in silence and showed little emotion.

Grace Millane's parents, David and Gillian Millane, arriving at the murder trial in November 2019...
Grace Millane's parents, David and Gillian Millane, arriving at the murder trial in November 2019. They are expected to watch the sentencing by video from the UK. Photo: RNZ
Justice Moore said the starting point for the killer's minimum period of imprisonment should be 17 years.

"I accept that you had a volatile upbringing, and that may well have influenced the person you are today," the judge told the killer.

But he said he could find "no factors" shifting the killer's culpability.

He earlier told the court only two people would ever know what really happened in the killer's apartment, and "one of them is dead".

"So what happened?"

By the jury's verdict, Justice Moore said, the claim of sex gone wrong was rejected.

Even the killer's second police interview, Justice Moore said, contained "demonstrable lies".

He continued to insist that Millane's death was "some terrible accident".

But Justice Moore said: "I accept that at some point you and Miss Millane must have discussed BDSM practices."

Moore said this is not a case where the strangulation was driven by rage or was premeditated.

But, he continued, there can be "no doubt" Millane was vulnerable.

"You were a stranger, she trusted you," the judge told the killer.

"You are a large and powerful man, she was diminutive," Justice Moore said.

"You were in a position of total physical dominance."

Justice Moore said the killer's photographs of Millane's naked body were rightly described as "depraved".

He said these were not the actions of someone panicking but rather underscored the total lack of empathy and the objectification of Millane.

Justice Moore addressed the killer's lawyer Ian Brookie saying the defence the barrister put forward for the killer was entirely proper and was run in a "strong and competent fashion".

The level of public criticism Brookie received during the trial was "entirely wrong", Justice Moore said.

Millane's mother Gillian earlier read an emotional victim impact statement via a video link from England.

She said the killer had "taken my daughter's future" and robbed her family of so many memories.

"The terror and pain she must have experienced at your hands, as a mother I would have done anything to change places with her.

"She died terrified and alone in a room with you."

She added: "Grace was never just a daughter, she was my friend, my very best friend."

Millane's brother Declan and her sister in-law Victoria also read statements.

Grace Millane's mother reads her victim impact statement via a video link from England. Photo: NZ...
Grace Millane's mother reads her victim impact statement via a video link from England. Photo: NZ Herald

Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said the murder displayed a high-level of brutality. Her death by strangulation was a "very personalised" way to kill a person.

Dickey said the actions of the killer after Millane's murder showed callousness, including his search for internet pornography and taking intimate photos of her dead body.

He said the killer "erotised" the murder which displayed "depravity".

But the murderer's actions didn't stop there as he tried to "cover up his tracks" and lie to police.

The verdict of the jury, Dickey said, showed this was not "rough sex gone wrong" but a murder.

Brookie said this morning the Millane family's acute sense of loss is acknowledged.

Justice Simon Moore. Photo: NZ Herald
Justice Simon Moore. Photo: NZ Herald

But, the killer maintains his innocence and a 17-year minimum period of imprisonment is "not realistic".

He said, respectfully, the Crown's summary of the facts is "incomplete".

"This is not a case involving a high-degree of callousness, brutality or depravitiy. No more than any other murder case."

Brookie said it was accepted that "of course some uplift should occur to mark the post death conduct and concealment of the body".

But he said a total of no more than 12 years in prison without parole for the killer was "appropriate".

Brookie urged Justice Moore to sentence his client with the knowledge the killer and Millane had engaged in consensual sex.

"There is no evidence of any non-consensual attack on the deceased.

"There is no sustained attack, there is no evidence of any other violence, which we unfortunately see in many other murders."

Brookie said attempting to cover up a homicide and trying to hide or bury the body is "not too uncommon in this country".

After the killer was found guilty, her father David spoke about how his only daughter's "barbaric" murder ripped his family's lives apart.

"This will be with us for the rest of our lives," he said. "Grace was a beautiful, talented, loving daughter. Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever."

Millane's parents sat through every day of the nearly three week-long trial but will not be at the today's hearing in person.

They tearfully told journalists after the guilty verdict they would return to England and "try to pick up the pieces of our lives".

Members of the Auckland police team which worked on the investigation are expected to be at the proceeding today, specifically the three officers who spent the most time with Millane's family; Detective Inspector Scott Beard, Detective Sergeant Greg Brand and Detective Toni Jordan.

Meanwhile, a woman who dated the killer before he murdered Millane said she was glad she spoke to police about the "coward".

"I think justice has been served - we got a guilty verdict.

"We have waited a long time for this," she said of the sentencing.

But there was no sympathy for the killer's likely lengthy prison time.

He was a "coward for taking another girl's life", she explained.

Millane, who was travelling the world, met her killer on the dating app Tinder before they shared some drinks at a few bars on the eve of her 22nd birthday in December 2018.

CCTV showed the pair appeared to be enjoying each other's company as they returned to his small downtown Auckland apartment.

The university graduate would never leave the room alive - her body later found dumped in shallow grave in the Waitākere Ranges.

"I am relieved I could stand up for myself, it could've been me. We did our part by going to the police and we were listened to," the women, who came forward to police after the killer's arrest, said.

"We have processed our hurt and anger but nothing we say will bring Grace back ... I feel for Grace's family they still have a lot of grief to process."

After hearing from nearly 40 witnesses during the highly-charged and emotional trial, the jury's decision was unanimous.

Some jurors broke down and sobbed as they left the courtroom after delivering their guilty verdict.

They heard how the killer strangled Millane to death in his CityLife hotel room and then took "trophy" photos of her body.

He "eroticised the death of British backpacker Grace Millane" because of his "morbid sexual interest", Auckland's Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey told them.

Police used some of the six terabytes of CCTV footage they collected to track the killer's movements across Auckland before and after he killed Millane.

His internet search history, expert witness, and those who knew the murderer's inclination to dominate women was also canvassed.

The killer's defence, led by barrister Ian Brookie, used expert evidence and those who knew Millane to argue it was an accidental death during erotic asphyxiation.

Brookie said his client had "freaked out" before later lying to police and trying to cover up the homicide.

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