Life sentence for Christchurch woman who murdered partner

Rena Joyce during her trial in the High Court at Christchurch. She was convicted of murdering her...
Rena Joyce during her trial in the High Court at Christchurch. She was convicted of murdering her partner Martin Berry. Photo: Pool / NZ Herald
A woman who stabbed her partner to death and dumped his body in a compost heap in his own backyard has been jailed for life.

Rena Joyce has been ordered to serve 13 years and nine months in prison before she is eligible for parole.

After a March trial at the High Court in Christchurch, Joyce, also known as Maloney, was convicted of murdering Martin Orme Berry, 55.

Berry's body was found in a compost heap at his Main North Rd home in January last year after Joyce walked into a Christchurch police station and confessed to killing him two weeks earlier.

He had been stabbed repeatedly and his throat was cut.

Martin Berry. Photo: Supplied
Martin Berry. Photo: Supplied
Joyce had admitted killing Berry but claimed his death was accidental and happened during a "mutual" altercation where she "just snapped".

After hearing evidence from more than 30 witnesses a jury found Joyce guilty of murder.

She was sentenced today by Justice Jonathan Eaton.

The hearing began with members of Berry's family reading victim impact statements.

His brother David Berry said the family was tight-knit and his "whole world".

"I was devastated to hear about the murder of my brother," he said.

"I always loved my brother so much. His life was often very painful and lonely and he drank to escape it.

"I visited and helped him as much as I could."

He said after Berry met Joyce he wondered if it would make his life less lonely.

It did, until the violence took over.

"For him to die this way was incredibly cruel," David Berry said.

"As for Rena, I know she is a very messed up person. I'm really disappointed and angry at the way she beat him and killed him and hid his body."

He said it was hard to relay in words the loss and sadness that he felt.

He was also disappointed Joyce showed no remorse for her actions during her trial.

"Martin certainly sacrificed everything for you. I feel certain he would like you to forgive yourself and everyone else who has harmed you," he said.

"He would like you to stop fighting everybody. I know that Martin cares about you and he would wish you no further harm."

His sister Joanna Statham said the images she had in her head of his final seconds haunted her.

Her life would never be the same again.

Statham revealed her mother died last month, still thinking Berry was alive.

The family chose not to tell her about his murder, worried about the impact it would have on the elderly woman.

Statham said Berry was "cruelly taken away" from her mother - and the rest of the "small family".

"It was evident we were losing Martin before he was killed. [Joyce] made it clear we were not welcome," she told the court.

"The connection with Martin was further distanced."

Martin Berry was found dead at his Christchurch home. His partner was convicted of his murder....
Martin Berry was found dead at his Christchurch home. His partner was convicted of his murder. Photo: Anna Leask
Statham said Joyce denied her brother any dignity he had left by dumping him in the garden.

Further pain was caused by Joyce who dumped and discarded all of Berry's belongings.

"Every day you'll have to remember, when you wake up, that you brutally stole the life from a kind and humble person," she told Joyce.

"Our only hope is one day you will understand how cruel and senseless it was.

"I love Martin so much, and I know that he knew it - and nothing else matters in the end."

Berry's niece Hannah Statham said losing her uncle "was traumatic".

"My world changed forever. Never in my life did I ever imagine we would get this kind of call.

"No words can express the [hurt] this has caused. Someone chose to take my uncle away from me and that is something I can never forget and never forgive."

Though she had not seen Berry in the years before he died she said she "missed him so very much".

She thought he was "the smartest person in the world".

What Rena Joyce did - the murder of Martin Berry

Joyce stabbed Berry repeatedly - stopping only when the blade of the knife lodged in his spine and broke away from the handle.

Joyce told the police - and maintained at trial - that she had "manslaughtered" Berry and that the attack was the culmination of years of abuse.

The jury heard that the couple's relationship was punctuated by violence - but Joyce was the primary and regular aggressor.

The volatile union was described by various family, friends, neighbours and others connected to them.

They spoke of Berry's fear of Joyce and they worried about his safety.

He had told family and friends he wanted to leave Joyce but he did not know how to.

Joyce had a string of convictions for assaulting Berry and had spent time in prison as a result.

When he died, Berry had a protection order in place against Joyce.

Details of the day Joyce handed herself to the police, including an almost two-hour video of her "confession" interview with detectives, were also revealed in court.

No regret or empathy - Crown blasts killer

Prosecutor Pip Currie said Joyce had caused major and lifelong trauma for Berry's whanau.

She said aggravating features of the offending were Berry's vulnerability including his growing fear of his partner, previous violence by Joyce, and the escalating domestic violence.

"She has no empathy or no remorse at all," said Currie.

"She's more concerned about her own self-interest, her property rights and her own downfall. It's concerning the only regret relates to her own circumstances."

Joyce's lawyer Richard Peters said his client has suffered "elements of cultural and social deprivation" in her life and asked the judge to consider that and her age when determining her sentence.

Justice Eaton said it was "difficult" to reconcile Joyce's version of events given the lengths that she went to conceal her crime - and Berry's remains.

"What is regrettably clear is you are unable to show any remorse," he said.

"It's a feature of this case that your violence towards Mr Berry continued notwithstanding a number of interventions. Each of those interventions was intended to offer some protection to Mr Berry and reduce your offending against him."

Justice Eaton said while the violence was "not a one-way street" in her relationship with Berry, Joyce was "overwhelmingly the aggressor".

He acknowledged Joyce's family and their "deep sadness".

"Also just how completely senseless his death was," he said.

Pre-sentence reports prepared for the court revealed Joyce - born and raised in the UK - had a childhood punctuated by poverty, domestic violence and watching her father "beat" her mother on a regular basis.

She claimed her mother beat her badly and she would often see her siblings being abused.

Joyce has not had any contact with her family since 2004 when she emigrated to New Zealand with her husband.

That relationship was toxic and ended.

Joyce then met Berry.

The report states Joyce has no concept of a normal or healthy relationship or communication.

"The report does record that you express regret about the situation you are now in," said Justice Eaton.

She said Berry's death was "so very, very sad" but she did not seem to show further remorse.

Life in prison - Rena Joyce is sentenced

Today Justice Eaton heard from the Crown and defence before handing down his sentence.

Justice Eaton said Joyce's actions in killing Berry and dumping him, then disposing of his belongings displayed "a high level of cruelty".

"Generally, your actions were disturbing and caused so much harm to Mr Berry's family," he said.

"I accept that this murder was not premeditated, but something sparked your rage. Your response was so extreme and has had such far-reaching consequences.

"This was the culmination of an escalating level of violence towards Mr Berry."

Justice Eaton said it was "remarkable" at trial that, after having a long time to consider her evidence, she set out to "denigrate" Berry.

"In my view, your focus remains very self-centred. You don't express remorse," he said.

He sentenced Joyce to life in prison and ordered her to serve a minimum non-parole period of 13 years and nine months.

-By Anna Leask

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