British backpacker Grace Millane was murdered by a man “seeking total domination and some sort of weird thrill over women who were his sexual partners”, a court heard today.
Her killer had then taken “trophy photographs” because of a “morbid interest in a dead woman’s genitalia”, prosecutor Brian Dickey said.
Mr Dickey was making his closing speech at Auckland High Court in New Zealand as the trial of a 27-year-old man charged with murder draws to an end.
He said there was a “compelling case of murder” against the defendant, who claims Grace died after consenting to being choked during sex.
“It’s not safe sex play that killed Grace Millane, it’s strangulation,” said Mr Dickey.
“At some point in which she lost consciousness and would have become limp and lifeless and he had to carry on.
“And if that’s not reckless murder, someone will have to explain to me what is.”
Mr Dickey said evidence from pathology experts was clear that it would take between five and 10 minutes of sustained pressure before Grace, a university graduate from Essex, died.
And he said the prosecution did not have to prove the man, whose identity is protected, had meant to kill her, only that he was reckless about what he was doing.
“If you kill someone by conscious risk-taking that is murder,” he said.
“If you are satisfied he knew that he was doing something that was causing some level of harm.”
The alleged killer’s lawyer told the jury the defendant was “just a young man who is prepared to do what his sexual partners want him to do in the bedroom”.
Barrister Ian Brookie said it was “abundantly clear” the backpacker from Wickford liked to be choked during sex.
“He was not experienced enough to actually know how to do this properly and what the dangers actually were,” he said.
“What they were doing, putting pressure in each others’ necks, is now just a part of having sex for some people. They were not thinking of it as a dangerous act.
“She was encouraging him to do this and to apply more force because this is what she liked.”
The idea, he said, was not violence or pain, but to heighten her sexual pleasure, but their inexperience coupled with alcohol meant safety was not their priority, said Mr Brookie.
“He reached orgasm and went to the shower. He never for a moment considered that Miss Millane might be in trouble.”
Mr Dickey dismissed the suspect’s version of events in a second police interview, where he claimed he had fallen asleep in the shower of his apartment and found Miss Millane dead on the floor hours later, as a “labyrinth of storytelling”.
He had lied about trying to take an overdose of pills after she died because “he’s trying to make out he’s a decent human being”, Mr Dickey told the jury of seven women and five men.
Mr Dickey said the man had been searching for a place and a way of disposing of the backpacker’s body and had then taken seven intimate photographs of her before watching hardcore porn.
“There’s really no way out of the photographs for the defendant,” said Mr Dickey. If they were taken while she was alive, he said, it was proof he was already planning her death and disposal.
If she was dead, he said, it proved the man had “eroticised her death”.
Mr Dickey said the man’s claim to police that he was distressed by what had happened to “a person he had a real connection with”, could be dismissed by the way he treated her – with “a complete and utter absence of dignity”.
Rather than calling emergency services he had bought cleaning supplies and arranged another Tinder date for that afternoon.
And Mr Dickey said the man had still never admitted to causing her death, only “a little touchy touchy on the throat”.
The defence, said Mr Dickey, are not admitting murder or manslaughter, but instead “saying no foul, accident, he should walk free. It’s a terrible business but he didn’t do anything wrong”.
And, he said, the defence claimed what the accused did after Miss Millane’s death was down to panic and did not help the jury decide how she died.
In fact, said Mr Dickey, the defendant had been “nonchalant” as he went to buy a second suitcase to replace the one he buried in the woods with Grace’s body inside.
Mr Dickey said: “He was as cool as a cucumber, able to say to Detective Settle: ‘Don’t worry about that, that’s still in my room, go and have a look. I haven’t bought a suitcase to dispose of a body’.
“That’s the level of planning, almost as if he is playing a game with the police, that tells you something about his mindset.
“He’s pretty good at this.”
Mr Dickey said Miss Millane’s sexual history, during which she practised consensual choking with a former partner, was irrelevant.
Her death “is not sex gone wrong,” he said. “It can’t be consent because of what was happening. She must have gone limp and he must have carried on and that must be murder.”
Mr Brookie said after Miss Millane’s death that the murder suspect lied time and again about the events because he had panicked, and although he had “acted selfishly” and what he did was “unacceptable” it only meant he was unable to cope in a crisis.
“The stakes were high,” he said. “This is not knocking over a milk jug, this is someone dead on his floor. It looks terrible.”
“This is not murder,” said Mr Brookie. “It’s a tragic, unintended, unforeseen accident”.
Judge Simon Moore will sum up the case on Friday morning before the jury considers its verdict.