11 Nov 2019

Grace Millane trial: Woman 'couldn't move my arms or breathe' in previous date with accused

2:08 pm on 11 November 2019

The man accused of murdering Grace Millane suffocated a woman he met on Tinder during sex, a court has heard.

Grace Millane

Grace Millane had been travelling through New Zealand on a worldwide OE. Photo: Supplied

Warning: This story and related coverage of the trial contain graphic details that may be distressing.

The evidence comes from one of three women called as Crown witnesses in the 27-year-old's High Court trial at Auckland today.

The man has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Millane after they met on a Tinder date between 1 and 2 December last year.

It's not disputed that the British backpacker died in his apartment and he later buried her body in a suitcase in the Waitakere Ranges.

The Crown says he strangled her, while the defence says Ms Millane's death was accidental after the pair had rough sex with her consent and encouragement.

This afternoon the jury heard from a woman who met the man last November after matching with him on Tinder eight months prior.

She told the jury they met in the CBD before buying alcohol and going to his apartment to talk and drink.

"Earlier he'd been talking about how much he loved me and wanted to be with me and stuff.

"He walked over and he kissed me and then tried to lead me over to the bed but I stayed sitting down."

The woman said she told the man she didn't want to have intercourse but instead gave him oral sex.

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  • She told the court it was during this period that the man sat down, putting his full weight on her face.

    "I couldn't breathe. He sat down so that he wasn't supporting any of his body weight but he had grabbed my forearms.. so I couldn't move my arms or breathe.

    "I started kicking to indicate I couldn't breathe.. kicking violently.. he would have felt me fighting against his arms."

    The woman told Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey she kicked "with all her might" for 30 to 40 seconds before pretending she had passed out.

    "I decided maybe I would just try to lie completely still and limp because then maybe he'd realise something was wrong. So I just lay there completely still, but he still didn't get off."

    Ms Millane's mother Gillian cried as the woman described feeling helpless and panicked as she resumed kicking against him.

    "There were so many thoughts running through my mind but it was more that this can't be the way that I die.

    "I just started thinking about my family and my friends..they can't read about this. I was just scared."

    She said after another 30 or 40 seconds of kicking the defendant then sat up and she moved her body out from under him.

    "I went to the edge of the bed gasping because I couldn't breathe. He just said to me 'Oh, what's wrong?'. I was like 'What do you mean what's wrong? I couldn't breathe'.

    "He turned to me almost accusing and quite cold and said 'Oh, you don't think I did that on purpose, do you?' I didn't know what to say I was still trying to catch my breath. I think I was just in disbelief and shock."

    The woman said the accused's tone "still gave her the chills".

    She said the man accused her of not liking him or wanting to be with him "over and over again".

    "I really wanted to leave but it was a hotel and I didn't know if I went out of the room and screamed if anyone was on the floor.

    "If I ran out I would have to wait for an elevator so I stayed and tried to be like, 'I have to leave now I better get going'."

    She said the man kept saying she didn't want him, telling her he should kill himself, before going to the bathroom and emerging complaining about pain.

    "I just briskly walked out and said I was going to call an ambulance. I went out and left and thankfully he didn't follow me."

    The woman said she left the apartment complex shaken but responded to a text message from him that morning.

    "He was just in disbelief that I'd left and hadn't stayed the night. He basically said that he couldn't believe that I'd left. Our conversation was basically about how shit he was making me feel."

    The woman told the court she didn't mention what happened because she was scared he knew too much about her life.

    "I didn't want to bring it up or aggravate him. I was scared. We'd had such a long conversation that night before things took a real turn.

    "I'd told him so much about my life... I was scared he was just going to turn up so I just played it off in the end like I was being friendly."

    'He did choke me a bit'

    This morning the jury also heard from another woman who also met the accused for sex after matching with him on Tinder last November.

    She told the court they exchanged messages on the dating app and via text message before agreeing to meet at his CityLife apartment at 7pm on 22 November.

    "We asked each other what we prefer during sex and so I did mention that I like rough sex and also choking.

    "He did say that he likes rough sex as well but I don't remember if he said anything about choking."

    The witness told the jury she picked up a bottle of rum on her way to the man's apartment and met him in the lobby before going up to his room and chatting about their lives.

    She drank about five rum and coke drinks while he drank about four beers, she said.

    "It started off as just talking to one another. Then after he went to the toilet on the way out he kissed me. From there, it just slowly moved to the bed."

    The woman said the pair then had sex, where the accused put one hand around her neck with her consent.

    "He did choke me a bit because that's a preference of mine."

    The jury has been told it will hear from a pathologist who will confirm Ms Millane's cause of death was pressure to the neck.

    The woman said she did not have to physically push the man away and the choking left no marks or soreness.

    "It wasn't too hard that I was gasping for air but it wasn't so soft that I wouldn't be able to feel it so it was just the right pressure."

    The pair ate pizza the man ordered and she left his apartment about an hour later, the court heard.

    The woman said they exchanged more messages a week later and the man was keen to see her again but she "didn't feel it anymore".

    "I did say we can chill just as a hangout, but he thought chill as in sex, but I was like chill as in hang out."

    Under cross examination, one of the man's lawyers Ron Mansfield asked if people exchanged photos of themselves, including intimate parts of their bodies.

    There was brief pause in Mr Mansfield's questioning as the woman began to cry, after confirming people did sometimes exchange photos.

    She also confirmed she had enjoyed the experience that, apart from the consensual choking, was "vanilla" and didn't have any reason to believe the man was violent.

    The court heard she approached police of her own volition after learning of Grace Millane's disappearance.

    'Didn't feel comfortable' meeting accused

    The jury has also heard from another woman who matched with the accused on Tinder in February 2018.

    The woman, who has name suppression, said they messaged and sometimes spoke on the phone throughout the year but never met in person.

    She told the jury she sent the man intimate photographs but didn't feel comfortable meeting him after he expressed an interest in "feet, dominating and strangulation".

    "He would talk about enjoying it and why he liked it... because it made him feel more superior and in control."

    The woman said the man called her around the 3 or 4 of December, the Monday or Tuesday after the weekend Ms Millane died.

    "He wanted to take me out on a date. The conversation was pretty much around meeting me and wanting to meet up somewhere.

    "I was actually busy that day and I didn't feel comfortable meeting him with some of the things he wanted me to do."

    Under cross-examination, the woman said much of what she remembered of that time came from her memory as she'd deleted messages on her phone.

    "I deleted some of the messages after knowing that was what was going on for him and that was out of purely just wanting to get rid of my messages off my phone."

    Mr Mansfield questioned how she could be sure the accused had talked to her about strangulation when she didn't have the messages to rely on.

    "There will be no record of the conversations but I do know I wouldn't have made up the fact that he asked to strangle me before I knew I was coming to court or anything about this if it wasn't real."

    The trial before Justice Moore and a jury of seven woman and five men is set down for the month.

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