'Devoted grandmother' jailed for 12 years for murder of girl

2:52 pm on 7 August 2019

A woman sentenced today for the murder of her grandchild has been described as suffering carer burnout.

Lorraine Smith, 59, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in the High Court in Wellington.

Lorraine Smith, 59, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in the High Court in Wellington. Photo: RNZ/Charlotte Cook

Lorraine Smith, 59, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in the High Court in Wellington today. She will be eligible for parole after serving half of that sentence.

She had earlier pleaded guilty to strangling her 13-year-old granddaughter Kalis Smith, who died in March.

During the hearing Justice Francis Cooke said Smith had been described as "a devoted grandmother", who turned herself inside out to get help for her family.

He said on 15 March, Kalis - who had lived with her grandmother since she was five months old - and Smith left a sporting event together and came home. They were heard arguing by Smith's grandson, and at one point Kalis threatened to run away.

Later Smith asked her granddaughter to help her close the windows in the sleep-out, and strangled her there with a neck-tie.

She then called Kalis' father and told him she had done something, then called police and told them she had killed her granddaughter.

Smith told police they had argued because of Kalis' attitude, and that she had had enough, and wanted everything to stop.

She had taken Kalis to the sleepout because that's where she wanted to kill her, so Kalis' brother would not see it.

She later told police there was no excuse for what she had done.

Defence lawyer Peter Brosnahan told the court Smith had had a tragic life.

She suffered abuse from an early age, and was raising three grandchildren who suffered varying degrees of mental health issues.

"Whatever sentence Your Honour imposes today really pales into insignificance with the fact that every day she goes to sleep and every morning she wakes up, living with what she's done."

The circumstances of the case were particularly tragic, Crown lawyer Michele Wilkinson-Smith said, but the murder was "sadly intentional".

"She took the child to a different area on the property, she strangled her at a point that she admitted the victim was fighting back ... and she checked the victim had stopped breathing."

When Kalis Smith's father was contacted he went straight to the address, and started CPR, but it was too late.

Mrs Wilkinson-Smith said the whanau of Smith had deep compassion for her, and understood the stresses she'd been under.

Justice Cooke said in suffering carer-burnout Smith had suffered severe mental and physical exhaustion while caring for three grandchildren with mental health problems, while herself struggling with a depressive disorder.

"Ms Smith has devoted her life to caring for her family to the detriment of her own health and welfare, the burden of doing so has taken a tremendous toll, and pressures have mounted to the point that Ms Smith has taken the life of one of those she had committed her life to caring for."

He said Smith's life had been marked by hardship, and a psychologists report noted she had expressed deep regret, and remorse, over Kalis' death.

Justice Cooke said to sentence Smith to life in prison would have been unjust given the circumstances.