22 Feb 2024

Dunedin teacher who stabbed partner to death sentenced to life in prison

3:12 pm on 22 February 2024

Carole Coade pleaded guilty to the murder of her partner, Mark Henry Willis.sdf Photo: RNZ/Tess Brunton

A Dunedin teacher who stabbed her partner 22 times while he was in the bath has been named and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 11 years behind bars.

Carole Coade pleaded guilty to the murder of her partner, 58-year-old director Mark Henry Willis, after his body was found by police in their Tainui home on 18 May 2023.

Her name suppression was lifted during Thursday's sentencing in the Dunedin High Court in front of a packed courtroom.

Willis' brother, in his victim impact statement, described shock and total disbelief when he heard his brother - whom he had been reconnecting with - had been murdered.

"Mark's greatest success was creating the movie, Blind Panic. The tragedy was his last moments of life were indeed filled with blind panic."

In a victim impact statement, his sister said the family was devastated and haunted by the senseless murder of a loving, talented and intelligent man.

She could not bear to think about how he died, saying it was soul-destroying and never-ending.

Justice Lisa Preston described the murder as a brutal, frenzied attack with some knife strikes plunging to the hilt.

She acknowledged Coade's severe mental illness, prior impeccable good character, and early guilty plea, but said Coade was not insane and was aware of her actions.

She decided to kill Willis so she would end up in prison and have food and shelter provided for her while concerned about her financial situation, Preston said.

Willis and Coade met in 2017 online, going back and forth from Wellington until she moved there to be with him.

They moved to Dunedin in December 2021, where she became a head of department at a local school which cannot be named due to a suppression order.

The summary of facts said she started spiralling with depression, finding her job challenging and struggling with the separation from her adult children, financial concerns, and feelings of isolation.

She took sick leave from her school in April, seeking support from a doctor who found she was in a major depressive episode with a lack of touch with reality, despite being in a supportive relationship with Willis.

However, she began to withdraw from the support and did not tell her children when she started to have homicidal urges.

Days leading up to the murder

Coade tried to kill Willis multiple times within days of the murder as her sick leave was nearing an end and she found she was incapable of returning to work.

At one point, she saw Willis on all fours while cleaning the carpet, telling her doctor she approached him with a knife but drew back out of fear that he would overpower her.

Four days before the murder, she approached him from behind with a knife while he was at a computer, but stopped and returned the knife, thinking it was crazy.

On 18 May, she decided she had to kill him as she had a meeting with the principal the next day and had no sick leave left.

She initially tried to drug him, thinking he would drown in the bath she encouraged him to take, lacing his coffee with crushed sleeping tablets. But he tasted something was off and discarded it, and then went for a bath.

Coade checked he was in the bath before going to the kitchen, grabbing a 10cm knife before returning to attack him.

She stabbed him 22 times, slashing him and causing wounds up to 10cm deep and severing an artery, despite his pleading: "No Carole, I love you."

She did not stop until he went under the water.

He died from loss of blood.

Soon afterwards, she messaged her children on Facebook to tell them she loved them and transferred $45,000 from her bank account to one of them, before calling the police and telling them she had stabbed her partner to death.

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said it was a brutal murder while her partner was vulnerable, ignoring his pleas and continuing to attack him.

It was clear she knew what she was doing and it was an enormous breach of trust, he said.

Defence counsel Sarah Saunderson-Warner said the murder went against her character as a loving and devoted mother and empathetic friend, and showed she was severely mentally unwell at the time.

She described Coade as remorseful, saying the murder would not have happened if it was not for her mental health.

Coade believed the only viable option was to be cared for in prison and by seeing her partner as a means to an end showed the extent of her delusion, Saunderson-Warner said.