Justice after 27 years: Rewa jailed for life for murder

Malcolm Rewa was sentenced today for the murder of Susan Burdett. Photo: NZME
Malcolm Rewa was sentenced today for the murder of Susan Burdett. Photo: NZME
Serial rapist Malcolm Rewa has been sentenced to life imprisonment for one of New Zealand's most infamous killings - the 1992 murder of Susan Burdett.

The case - which has spanned 27 years, five trials and saw an innocent man locked away for two decades - eventually saw Rewa unanimously found guilty at his third trial over the murder last month.

Today, the 66-year-old was sentenced by Justice Geoffrey Venning in the High Court at Auckland.

After the judge ensured Rewa will never be set free members of the public gallery began clapping.

Justice Venning said Rewa remained a manipulative and controlling person who remains a danger to the community.

Burdett was bludgeoned to death with the baseball bat she kept for protection in her South Auckland home in 1992.

"Mr Rewa, on the night of the 23 March, 1992 your broke into Ms Burdett's home. You attacked her, you raped her and you killed her," Justice Venning said.

"The evidence against you was overwhelming.

"This was particular brutal attack following a home invasion and committed during another serious offence."

Rewa, who is already serving a preventive detention prison sentence the serial rapes, had two previous trials in 1998 over the 39-year-old accounts clerk's murder.

Both resulted in the juries being unable to reach a conclusion. Rewa was, however, convicted of Burdett's rape at his second trial.

Susan Burdett was a 39-year-old who loved tenpin bowling. Photo: Supplied
Susan Burdett was a 39-year-old who loved tenpin bowling. Photo: Supplied
When sentenced for the serial rapes, the judge said Rewa's crimes were a chronicle of remorseless and depraved destruction.

Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes said no minimum period of imprisonment could be imposed for Rewa for the murder because it was not an option at the time of Burdett's killing.

"It is a murder involving a high-degree of culpability which should be measured by a sentence of life imprisonment," he said.

In the courtroom today, as on the day of the murder verdict after a two week trial, was private investigator Tim McKinnel.

Along with lawyers and journalists, McKinnel led the pursuit against one of this country's great injustices - the prosecution of Teina Pora.

Pora was just 17 years old when he was arrested and later twice wrongly convicted for murdering Burdett.

He spent 22 years in prison.

Justice Venning said Rewa "took advantage" of Pora's false confession.

Finally, after McKinnel's efforts with the aid of lawyers Jonathan Krebs and Ingrid Squire, Pora's conviction was quashed by the Privy Council in London in 2015.

Pora has since received a Government apology and $3.5 million in compensation.

A 1998 stay of the murder charge against Rewa was lifted in 2017, allowing the third trial to proceed.

McKinnel described the guilty verdict as "justice merged with truth".

Teina Pora twice wrongly convicted of the murder and spent 22 years in prison. Photo: NZME
Teina Pora twice wrongly convicted of the murder and spent 22 years in prison. Photo: NZME
The five trials - three for Rewa and two for Pora - had been tough for Burdett's family with a great deal of uncertainty and difficult times, he said.

"It always involved two families - Teina's and Susan's, you couldn't deal with one without the other."

McKinnel described Rewa as a "monster".

For Pora, McKinnel said, the guilty verdict for Rewa was a day Pora had been waiting for.

During the trial the court heard the attack on Burdett displayed all the hallmarks of a typical Rewa crime.

Twenty of Rewa's other rape cases were used as evidence in the trial, several of which included the victim having had their legs crossed or dangling over the bed, their eyes blindfolded, and top half covered.

Burdett was found by a friend lying naked on her bed, her upper half covered with a blood-soaked blue duvet, and her legs crossed and hanging over the side of the bed.

Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes said Rewa, after slipping in through a window, surprised Burdett as she prepared for bed - a style of attack he was known for.

The Court of Appeal permitted the Crown to use most of Rewa's previous rape convictions as evidence of a pattern of offending.

During pre-trial hearings, defence counsel Paul Chambers also argued historical media publicity was prejudicial to Rewa's case.

During the trial, Chambers told the court Burdett knew her killer and accused her son Dallas McKay of the murder.

McKay had inherited $250,000 from his mum's life insurance policy after she altered her will, the court heard.

But Rewa had taken advantage of Burdett's son having recently come into his mum's life, Justice Venning said today.

"The jury rightly rejected that suggestion which was without any evidential foundation," he said.

Rewa, who gave evidence in his own defence, also claimed he was in a secret sexual relationship with Burdett - which he said explained his semen being found at the crime scene.

Justice Venning said today this claim was "a further injustice on Burdett and her memory".

He said there was no evidence to suggest a secret sexual relationship and the Burdett family has had to live with Rewa's lies "hanging over them for 27 years".

However, the serial rapist will appeal his murder conviction, Chambers told the Herald just a few days after the verdict.

The lawyer said the appeal will focus on jury bias, propensity evidence, physical evidence, the lifting of the stay of the murder charge, and suppression orders.

A point of contention, he added, was how quickly the jury returned its verdict - less than four hours.

Chambers said it was "one of the indicators of jury bias".

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