A New Zealand man was found guilty Friday of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane in Auckland last year after a jury rejected his defense that she was accidentally choked in a sex game gone wrong.
Millane disappeared on the eve of her 22nd birthday last December, a few days after arriving in Auckland while on a year-long around-the-world holiday after graduating from university.
The 27-year-old accused, whose identity is suppressed under a court ruling, had pleaded not guilty to her murder, but a jury convicted him after a three-week trial.
The court heard Millane and the killer met on the evening of her death after matching on the Tinder dating app, then went back to his city-center apartment.
The defendant did not dispute the fact that Millane died in his home and that he disposed of her body in rugged bushland outside Auckland, where it was found a week later.
But his defense team claimed Millane died after encouraging him to choke her during consensual sex, then he disposed of the body and cleaned up the death scene because he was in a panic.
Prosecutors labeled the story a “labyrinth of lies”, saying after Millane’s death he took pictures of her, searched online for sites to dispose of the corpse, watched pornography, and arranged another Tinder date for the following night.
Prosecutor Brian Dickey said the man was seeking “total domination” over his victim.
A jury took about five hours to find him guilty and he is due to be sentenced on February 21, when the judge is likely to lift his identity suppression.
He faces minimum a 10-year non-parole period in prison, although the judge can order longer terms — including life without any chance of release.
Millane’s parents were in the public gallery throughout the trial and wept when the guilty verdict was readout.
“It will not reduce the pain and suffering we’ve had to endure,” father David told reporters outside the court, paying tribute to “a beautiful, talented, loving daughter”.
“Grace was taken away from us in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives and family have been ripped apart, this will be with us for the rest of our lives.”
The killing shocked New Zealand — which is usually regarded as a safe place to travel — prompting nationwide vigils and a heartfelt apology to Millane’s family by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.