WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - A 28-year-old New Zealand man who murdered a British woman backpacker was handed life imprisonment with a minimum of 17 years behind bars by the Auckland High Court on Friday (Feb 21).
Ms Grace Millane, 22, went missing in Auckland on Dec 1, 2018, while travelling after finishing university. The man, whose name has been suppressed by the court, was convicted of the murder by a jury on Nov 22 last year but his sentence had been deferred.
Justice Simon Moore said in court that the biggest decision in sentencing the killer was settling on the minimum number of years he must spend in jail without chance of release, state broadcaster 1News reported.
Ultimately, Justice Moore opted for a non-parole period of 17 years - one of the longest stretches ever handed down to a murderer in New Zealand, 1NEWS said.
The convicted man met Ms Millane through dating app Tinder while she was backpacking through New Zealand. Both shared drinks on the eve of her 22nd birthday, the day she went missing, and later went to his downtown Auckland apartment.
Police found her body several days later in a shallow grave in a bushland just a few metres from a scenic drive in the Waitakere Ranges.
The man confessed Ms Millane died in his apartment but pleaded not guilty to murder, and his lawyers argued that she died accidentally during consensual sex. But prosecutors said the accused had murderous intent and Ms Millane was strangled to death.
The judge said this was not a case where the strangulation was driven by rage or was premeditated.
But Ms Millane was vulnerable and appeared to be restrained.
"You were in a position of total physical dominance," Justice Moore told the killer, according to New Zealand Herald newspaper.
Justice Moore said in the minutes after her death the man looked up pornography sites and then took intimate photos of Ms Millane’s body, noting these were not the actions of a man in panic.
The man then transported Ms Millane’s body out of his apartment in a suitcase and later buried it
Earlier in the day, Ms Millane's mother Gillian read a statement in court via a video link from Britain. The news that her daughter was found in a shallow grave would "haunt" her for the rest of her life, she said, according to New Zealand Herald.
Ms Gillian said the killer had "taken my daughter's future" and robbed her family of so many memories, the newspaper reported.
The killing shocked New Zealand, where serious crime was once considered relatively rare and its cities and countryside considered safe. It also sparked intense debate about New Zealand's record on violence against women and its reputation as a safe, easy-going holiday destination.
Thousands of people held candlelight vigils after Ms Millane's death in a national outpouring of grief. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden held back tears as she apologised to Ms Millane's family on behalf of New Zealand.