21 Feb 2020

Grace Millane murderer sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years

1:04 pm on 21 February 2020

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

The man who murdered British backpacker Grace Millane will spend at least 17 years behind bars.

The man found guilty of murdering Grace Millane in court for sentencing on Friday 21 February 2020.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

There was eerie silence in court this morning as the 28-year-old was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

The man, who has continued name suppression, strangled Millane in his CityLife apartment in Auckland's CBD in December 2018.

His name and identifying details have been secret since his arrest and this continues until further order of the court.

Dressed in a dark grey suit, the man appeared in the High Court at Auckland for sentencing this morning in front of more than 50 spectators in the public gallery.

Read more:

  • Grace Millane's life: Far more than the details of her death
  • Grace Millane murder: The key evidence heard in court
  • The Grace Millane case: A timeline
  • Grace Millane's family speaks

    Millane's mother Gillian was one of three family members who read emotional victim impact statements to the court from the United Kingdom, via an audio-visual link.

    She sat in front of a camera, a framed photograph of Grace hanging on the wall behind her, to tell the court her daughter was her best friend.

    "We'd laugh together and make memories I will treasure forever. Grace was truly beautiful with a smile that would light up any room.

    "She was confident, kind and intelligent with a desire to travel, meet new people and see the world."

    Gillian held up a family photograph taken at her daughter's graduation and said her family was happy at the time; blissfully unaware it would be their last family photo together.

    Grace Millane

    Grace Millane at her graduation. Photo: Supplied / Facebook

    "On a daily basis I torment myself over what you did to my Grace. The terror and pain she must have experienced at your hands.

    "As a mother I would have done anything to change places with her. I feel full of guilt knowing I couldn't help her. I should have been there. She died terrified and alone in a room with you."

    She told the court the news of her daughter's disappearance came a week after a breast cancer operation, through which Grace had been her "rock".

    "Last February I went into a very dark place. I wanted to take my own life because the cruel and emotional pain was just too much.

    "But how can I add more pain to my already-suffering family? My home feels empty without Grace. I have needed weekly counselling sessions to deal with this."

    Addressing the defendant directly, she told him he had ripped a hole in her heart and destroyed her family, as well as his own.

    "I am absolutely heartbroken that you have taken my daughter's future and robbed me of so many more memories that we were going to create," she said, addressing the killer.

    Gillian Millane makes a victim impact statement via audio-visual link from the UK at at the sentencing of the man convicted of murdering Grace Millane, 21 February 2020.

    Grace Millane's mother Gillian appears at the High Court at Auckland for the sentencing of her daughter's killer via audio-visual link from Essex. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

    "I want you to know I don't think of you because if I did that means I care about you and I simply don't."

    The killer nodded in the dock at this comment, and went on to cry, bending over to put his head in his hands.

    Gillian Millane and her husband David were in the public gallery throughout the man's three-week trial last November.

    She said David had become seriously unwell since returning home from the trial.

    Declan Millane, one of Grace's older brothers, told the court his life changed the moment Grace's birthday messages went unanswered.

    He recalled taking a phone call from his father when her body was found and told the court he could not close his eyes without reliving that time of his life.

    "This person did not just take Grace's life. He took away a piece of my life as well. I have not felt whole since my sister's death."

    He wiped tears as he described being severely depressed after his sister's death and feeling her absence every day.

    Grace Millane

    Grace Millane Photo: Supplied

    "It's tough to carry on life as normal following the destruction of our family. But it's one person who ripped it apart.

    "How do you carry on with life? You've ripped our family apart and for what? There's no reason behind this unspeakable act."

    Declan Millane said his sister had an extremely bright future ahead of her, and he missed her every day.

    Sister-in-law Victoria Millane, who is married to her eldest brother Michael, said she and Grace had become best of friends and she was the little sister she had always longed for.

    She said she had been left absolutely heartbroken by her killing.

    "With a heavy heart I take my daughter, Harper, aged only two years old, to visit aunty Grace as often as I can.

    "Harper knows that aunty Grace is laid at rest, but is still to young to understand the horror her aunt endured."

    Addressing the defendant, she said he had forever taken away the thing her daughter loved the most; her aunty Grace.

    She told the court the family had been destroyed in the face of such unimaginable grief and their loss was compounded during last November's criminal trial.

    "The trial was incredibly difficult. I sat listening and reading about your actions, all of which will haunt me forever."

    "No life sentence received today will match the life sentence without my Grace. I will do my utmost to ensure no other family needs to go through what we have endured."

    She told the court the family had set up a charity, Love Grace, to donate handbags full of sanitary items to victims of domestic violence.

    The sentencing

    Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey at the sentencing of the man convicted of murdering Grace Millane on 21 February.

    Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey at the sentencing today. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

    Crown prosecutor Brian Dickie sought a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

    It was the Crown's position the 28 year old had "eroticised" the British backpacker's death, he said.

    He said the jury's verdict meant they agreed the man had taken intimate photographs of her body after she died.

    This, the disposal of Millane's body, the man's Tinder date after her death, and attempts to clean his room all showed the murderer had a high level of depravity, cruelty and callousness, Dickie said.

    Defence lawyer Ian Brookie said an 11-year sentence would be appropriate.

    He made note of the victim impact statements read by Millane's family members.

    "It is an important part of the process and their acute sense of loss is acknowledged in the circumstances," he said.

    However, he told the court his client maintained his innocence.

    The defendant's lawyer Ian Brookie at the sentencing.

    The defendant's lawyer Ian Brookie at the sentencing. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

    Brookie submitted that his client and Millane had consensual sex and engaged in BDSM practices with consent.

    He told the court a cultural report had found the man had a difficult and traumatic upbringing after being cut off from his mother and only brother at a young age.

    The court heard that at the time of Millane's death, he was isolated from his family and culture.

    In sentencing, Justice Moore said he accepted the pair had spoken of BDSM in the apartment, but rejected the man's suggestion to police he was a complete novice to such practices.

    The judge said he was satisfied the man had photographed Millane's body after she died and only told police they had taken photographs of each other because he knew they would find the images on his phone.

    He said Millane was vulnerable as a young woman abroad and even more so in the context of a sexual encounter with the defendant.

    "You are a large and powerful man. She was diminutive. On your account she asked you to hold her arms and then her throat.

    "In that position and in those circumstances Ms Millane was particularly vulnerable. You were in a position of total physical domination."

    Justice Moore said the man's behaviour after her death was another aggravating factor.

    Justice Simon Moore  at the sentencing of the man convicted of murdering Grace Millane, 21 February 2020

    Justice Moore. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

    On the evidence heard at trial, he found she must have died before 1.29am, a time marked by a Google search for 'Waitākere Ranges' on the defendant's phone.

    The judge said the man also searched pornography after her death and took "highly sexualised and grossly intrusive" photographs of her body.

    The judge said the killer's actions and his attempts to cover his tracks in the days afterwards were hardly the spontaneous outpouring of remorse that might point away from callousness.

    He sentenced the man to life in jail with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

    The case

    The killer was arrested the day before police found Millane's body in a suitcase buried in a shallow grave in the Waitākere Ranges.

    Judge Evangelos Thomas, who presided over the man's first court appearance in the District Court, refused to grant him interim name suppression.

    However, his name was kept secret after his lawyer Ian Brookie indicated he would appeal the decision to the High Court.

    This appeal was successful and the man's name and identifying details remain suppressed until further order of the court.

    The 28 year old was found guilty of murder after a three-week trial in the High Court at Auckland in November last year.

    The prosecution, led by Auckland Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey, told the jury the man murdered Millane by strangulation.

    The jury watched hours of CCTV footage showing what happened before and after the pair went into the man's apartment on the night of 1 December 2018.

    Grace Millane matched her murderer on Tinder and organised to meet him at the base of the Sky Tower for a date that day, the eve of her 22nd birthday.

    They bar hopped through Auckland's CBD, settling at the Bluestone Room where they were filmed embracing and kissing over several hours.

    They then walked to the man's apartment, at one point with their arms around one another, and entered the CityLife building at 9.40pm.

    As prosecutor Robin McCoubrey said in opening the Crown's case, only two people know exactly what happened in the hotel room that night.

    The man did not give evidence in his own defence, as is his right, but he did sit down with the police for two interviews shortly after Millane disappeared.

    In his first interview, he lied and told authorities he had parted ways with Millane earlier that night with plans to see each other for a second date.

    He then backtracked in a second interview, his lawyer Ian Brookie in the room, and admitted burying the young woman's body in the Waitākere Ranges.

    The man told investigators he choked Millane during sex at her request before the pair took intimate photographs of each other.

    Analysis of his phone found he watched pornography and took seven intimate photographs of her naked body, including pictures of her leg and foot.

    Millane's phone was never recovered; most likely thrown in a bin at Albert Park by the man, ending up in a rubbish tip too resource-intensive for authorities to search.

    The man told police he fell asleep in the shower after having sex with Millane, got into bed and then woke up the next morning to find Millane lying on the floor with blood coming from her nose.

    At trial, the defence argued Millane accidentally died during consensual rough sex, saying the man's post mortem behaviour could be explained by him panicking in crisis.

    They called a number of witnesses to corroborate the young woman's interest in BDSM practices with former sexual partners.

    However, the jury's unanimous guilty verdict meant they rejected the defence's case and found Millane did not consent to the action that killed her.

    Pathologists called by both the Crown and defence agreed it would take between five to 10 minutes to kill someone by strangulation.

    They told the jury the person being strangled would lose consciousness and go limp in a matter of seconds, well before the point of death.

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