Jail term for friend's manslaughter reduced

A man who killed his friend with a punch and then buried him in a shallow grave has had his jail term reduced on appeal.

James Grant Cooper was convicted of manslaughter and attempting to pervert the course of justice after inflicting a fatal blow to the side of his friend Javed Mills head, then attempting to cover it up.

He then claimed Mr Mills' benefit and created a fictitious social media account to fool friends into thinking the dead man was still alive in Wellington.

Cooper was sentenced to four years and three months on the manslaughter charge, and four years for perverting the course of justice, to be served cumulatively.

According to a Court of Appeal judgement released today, in early 2009 Cooper had invited his friend Javed Mills to live in a shed on his parent's property as he had nowhere to live.

After becoming involved in a disagreement that turned physical, Cooper punching Mr Mills twice in the head, and then struck him in the head with his elbow. Mr Mills fell to the floor and died.

Cooper then wrapped Mr Mills in bed covering and placed him in a crawl space underneath the shed before he dug a shallow grave in front of the shed and buried Mr Mills several days later.

He then used Mr Mill's bank card to withdraw the dead man's benefit, and created a fictitious social media account through which he communicated with Mr Mills' friends and family to create the impression that he was alive and had moved to Wellington.

A year later Cooper exhumed the body and placed the skeletal remains, except for the skull, into a nearby wheelie bin. He smashed the skull into pieces with a hammer.

The skeleton was discovered six to eight months later by staff of a demolition company, after Cooper dumped the bin at an unoccupied property.

Cooper appealed against his sentence, on the grounds that the jail terms were manifestly excessive because the judge took starting points that were too high, did not give adequate discounts for good character, remorse, or to reflect the totality of the offending.

Court of Appeal Justices Lynton Stevens, Patricia Courtney and Graham Lang agreed that the starting point taken for both charges was was too high.

However, they found there was no need for further adjustment on the other grounds for appeal.

As a result Cooper's previous sentences were quashed, and replaced with terms of three years, nine months' imprisonment for manslaughter, and three years, six months' imprisonment for perverting the course of justice, to be served cumulatively.


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