ON AIR: Overnight Talk

12AM - 5AM

Millane trial: Video shows accused killer's police interview

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 12 Nov 2019, 2:03PM

Millane trial: Video shows accused killer's police interview

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 12 Nov 2019, 2:03PM

Warning: Contains graphic and sexual content.

Grace Millane died from "pressure on the neck" and her body had several bruises, a pathologist has told the murder trial today.

Of "significance" was bruising on the left side of Millane's neck, forensic pathologist Dr Simon Stables said in evidence today.

This injury would normally be a result of pressure over a "sufficient period of time and with sufficient force", Stables said.

The court has heard testimony about a comment the accused left on a profile picture on Millane's Facebook page as well as the first contact police made with the accused.

Crown prosecutors allege that on the night of December 1 - the eve of Millane's 22nd birthday - the accused, 27, strangled the young Brit to death in his central city apartment after the pair spent the night drinking.

Millane's body was found inside a suitcase and dumped in a shallow grave in Auckland's Waitākere Ranges a week later.

Alleged killer lies to police about whereabouts

5.10pm

The accused was not under arrest when he was interviewed by detective Ewen Settle on December 6.

Their conversation, however, was recorded on video and was played in part to the jury this afternoon.

The court heard the accused was originally from Wellington and had lived in Australia for several years.

He told Settle he matched with Millane on Tinder the day before they met on December 1.

After talking about Millane's travels he asked if the backpacker wanted to meet for a drink.

"We met outside [SkyCity] on the front doors, I gave her a hug she gave me a hug," the accused told Settle.

"We decided that we were going up to Andy's burger bar.

"We were talking about siblings. She said she has brothers."

The accused also said he wasn't sure Millane was "real" and may have been a catfish, a fake social media identity.

"If I meet at SkyCity ... If it is someone that it's not I could just walk away," he said.

"On Tinder it's all about the way you look.

"If she wasn't who she said she was at least then in my mind I would be safe."

The accused also talked about his downtown Auckland apartment at the CityLife hotel - where room where Millane died.

"It's cosy, it's definitely ... it's not where I want to be forever but it's comfortable."

Settle asked: "How did the evening pan out?"

"Umm yeah, pretty good," the accused replied. "We drank a few cocktails and we were having good conversations."

The accused said after the pair went to Andy's Burger Bar they went their seperate ways - a version of events which contradicts CCTV footage of the pair going to two more establishments before the CityLife hotel.

"I go down Victoria St, straight down to the bottom, and hang a left and head towards the Viaduct," the accused said.

"I was going to go down to the pubs down there."

He told Settle he then spent a couple of hours at a sports bar on Queen St.

However, Settle slid a piece of paper across the table and showed the accused an image from a CCTV camera.

It was of him and Millane.

"What time is this?" the detective asked.

The accused paused and questions the photo before replying "I would say 8.30pm-9pm?"

The jury will watch the rest of the video interview when the trial resumes tomorrow morning.

Accused's comment on Millane's Facebook page

4.25pm

Detective Toni Jordan told the court she visited the CityLife hotel on December 6 and asked staff if the accused lived there.

However, she saw the alleged killer.

"I saw that he was outside and he looked directly at me," Jordan said.

The detective briefly ran after the accused, whom she found in a nearby shop on Queen St talking to a fellow police officer.

The accused was asked to come to the Auckland central police station, and Jordan said he made a comment that he "wanted to get this all sorted out".

4.00pm

Detective Constable Changhee Han and Detective Constable Thomas Heimuli briefly interviewed the accused in a downtown Auckland food court on December 6 last year.

The alleged killer said he last saw Millane walking down Victoria St West on the night of December 1.

He told the officers Millane had mentioned she was going to travel to Whangarei Heads with some friends she had made at her backpackers.

3.30pm

Detective Constable Diana Levinzon was the police officer tasked with scanning social media pages during the early days of the investigation into finding Millane.

She told the court she discovered a comment underneath a new profile photo on Millane's Facebook page.

"Beautiful, very radiant," it read.

The comment was linked to a name associated with the accused.

The Facebook timestamp said the comment had been made three days prior on December 2.

Prosecutor Robin McCoubrey told the court, however, that the Crown accepts further information shows the comment was in fact made on December 1 at about 9.29pm.

Levinzon also contacted the accused and in a phone conversation he said he was with Millane on the night of December 1.

He said he was at a SkyCity bar, had met Millane on Tinder, but the last time he saw her was at about 10pm.

Pathologist describes examination after Millane's body found in suitcase

3.00pm

After the lunch break, forensic pathologist Dr Simon Stables was asked by lead defence counsel Ian Brookie if alcohol could inhibit the way a person "bounces back" from a period in a low oxygen state.

"If a person's blood alcohol [level] is affecting a person's respiratory centre, they would be unconscious," the doctor said.

"They can't have disordered breathing and still be unconscious ... If your blood [alcohol] level is such a level that it is affecting your breathing, then you are no longer conscious."

Brookie referred to medical opinion he had which described a "bounce back phenomenon" and said Millane's level of intoxication may have affected her ability to come back from being consensually strangled.

The lawyer asked Stables if there was also any information available in the medical world to inform how long death in such a state may take.

"That's right, I can't answer that," Stables said.

The pathologist also said there was a lack of literature and a lack of reported cases for erotic manual strangulation.

"If it happens, this is incredibly rare," he said.

"I'm not saying it can't happen, I'm just putting it in context."

Earlier, Stables had told the court the accused accepts Millane died from pressure to her neck, but denies intending to cause her fatal harm.

Brookie asked Stables if he could tell whether the injuries found on Millane's body were "consensual bruises".

Stables said it was impossible to tell, but agreed with Brookie when asked if the injuries might have occurred during rough sex.

Stables said he hadn't seen many cases in New Zealand of death due to manual strangulation.

"We don't see many cases of homicide due to manual strangulation," he told the court.

Also rare, he said, were cases of strangulation due to erotic asphyxiation.

"They are usually of auto-erotic asphyxia," he said, but added the person will usually have "some form of escape mechanism".

Stables continued describing his examination after the morning break and said he found injuries which were consistent with restraint.

Of "significance" was bruising on the left side of Millane's neck, he said.

This injury would normal be a result of pressure over a "sufficient period of time and with sufficient force", Stables said.

"It's not going to happen through a gentle touch of the neck," he explained.

Stables said he determined Millane had died from "pressure on the neck".

Ian Brookie is defending the man accused of murdering Grace Millane. Photo / Michael Craig

Ian Brookie is defending the man accused of murdering Grace Millane. Photo / Michael Craig

For someone to die in this manner, he said, the brain needs to be starved of oxygen for at least four to five minutes.

"It actually takes quite a bit of effort, it doesn't seem like it, but to do so takes quite a bit of effort and strength," Stables said.

Three small red bruises were also found on the inside of Millane's right upper arm, just above the elbow.

And the expert Crown witness said he discovered what could be "fingertip bruising".

"If someone has grabbed on the arm, if there is sufficient force, the fingers may leave bruising," he explained.

There were some bruises to Millane's thighs and inner legs and a faint bruise to her left calf.

Dating bruises, Stables said, was notoriously difficult but added it was extremely hard to bruise a body post-mortem.

He said Millane's bruising was "probably around the time of death" and the pattern was consistent with "some sort of restraint".

"We can't be exact, it's just impossible," he said of trying to date the injuries.

He said his first involvement in the case was around 8am on December 9 after receiving a call from the police officer in charge of the case Detective Inspector Scott Beard.

Beard said they had likely found the body of a missing woman in the Waitākere Ranges.

Police forensic experts sift through the site where Grace Millane's body was found in the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Supplied

When Stables arrived at the scene there was a muddy and dirty suitcase still in the ground, he told the court.

He then watched it be removed from the ground and out of the bush.

Stables told the court he conducted a quick examination inside the suitcase, because it was partly open, and confirmed there was a person inside - a young woman.

Police forensic experts sift through the site where Grace Millane's body was found in the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Supplied

Police forensic experts sift through the site where Grace Millane's body was found in the Waitakere Ranges. Photo / Supplied

It was then taken to the mortuary and kept in a locked fridge.

The woman's wrists were then swabbed for DNA before her body was later "very carefully" extracted from the suitcase, Stables said.

A photograph booklet showing Stables' examination was at this stage distributed to the jury.

Justice Simon Moore warned them "for obvious reasons aspects of those photographs are disturbing".

Stables then began describing his examination and said he noticed a bruise on the front left shoulder, partly over the collarbone, of the woman - later identified as Millane.

He told the court the injury occurred before her death.

'It still gives me chills'

11.10am

During the woman's re-examination by Auckland's Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey she said the accused, whom she described as hysterical, had claimed he was All Black Aaron Smith's cousin.

"He told me he had spent the last All Blacks game watching with the wives and girlfriends.

"I thought it was just odd."

She said the accused - who also claimed he had gang connections - clung to the fact she was adopted and also claimed he had been adopted as a child.

"I didn't want to have to be part of this, share my story with everyone - the public," she said.

"I'm embarrassed that I put myself in such a terrifying or dangerous position, that's the only thing that I'm embarrassed about."

10.55am

"He had my arms pinned down ... It's not a pleasurable thing ... He would have seen me kicking," the woman said, as she again was asked to recall her date with the accused.

"After the struggling after holding me down, yes, I said 'I couldn't breathe'."

The woman said the accused "had both my arms".

However defence lawyer Ron Mansfield asked a series of questions: "Although he wanted you to stay the night he didn't stop you from leaving did he?

"You felt uncomfortable and you didn't like it?

"He got off you and then you told him you didn't like it?"

But the woman bit back.

"I was completely scared and fearful," she said.

"A person who can almost kill someone and suffocate them ... And then claim he has cancer to gain some sympathy ... he's a sociopath."

She said her experience was "nasty, it was terrifying".

"It was one of the worst days of my life," she told the court.

"I don't want to be here talking about it, I don't want to be reliving it."

10.30am

One of the accused's lawyers, Ron Mansfield, has this morning continued to question the account of the witness from their November 2 date last year.

Yesterday, she told the court that after being suffocated by the alleged killer during oral sex he made an "almost accusing and quite cold" remark.

"I was gasping, I couldn't breathe properly and he just said to me, 'Oh what's wrong?'

"Almost accusing and quite cold he said, 'Oh you don't think I did that on purpose do you?'"

Mansfield asked: "When you first spoke to the police you put it slightly differently, didn't you?"

The woman agreed she hadn't initially talked to police about the accused's tone but during her testimony has told the court: "Just the way he said it ... it still gives me chills."

The court heard from the woman yesterday that after she matched with the alleged killer on Tinder - as Millane had - she agreed to meet the young man for a drink on November 2 last year.

However, instead of going to a downtown Auckland bar the pair went to the accused's apartment at the CityLife hotel - the same room where Millane died a month later.

The accused killer's downtown Auckland apartment where he took some of his Tinder dates.

The accused killer's downtown Auckland apartment where he took some of his Tinder dates.

"We'd been talking about, like, how much he loved me and wanted to be with me," the witness told the High Court at Auckland.

She told the young man: "We're not having sex."

However, the accused soon removed his pants and she began giving him oral sex, she said.

But, as the witness explained, she would soon be fearing for her life.

"He just sat down on my face," she said through tears. "I couldn't breathe."

The accused was also holding her down, the court heard.

"I couldn't move my arms, I couldn't breathe, so I started kicking - trying to indicate I couldn't breathe," she said.

"I couldn't breathe … I was terrified. He just sat there, he didn't move at all."

The then-university student said she finally managed to turn her head slightly and get a sliver of air.

She then feigned unconsciousness, the court heard.

"'Cause then maybe he'd realise something was wrong.

"There were so many thoughts running through my mind ... This can't be the way I die ... I started thinking about my family and my friends. They can't read about this."

Finally the accused sat up, she said.

"I was gasping, I couldn't breath properly and he just said to me, 'Oh what's wrong?'

"Almost accusing and quite cold he said, 'Oh you don't think I did that on purpose do you?'"

After the incident, the witness said she never wanted to see the 27-year-old man again.

Grace Millane and the accused were filmed by a CCTV camera in SkyCity.

Grace Millane and the accused were filmed by a CCTV camera in SkyCity.

But her text message history led to a lengthy line of questioning under cross-examination by one of the accused's lawyers.

Ron Mansfield read some of the more than 700 messages between the woman and the alleged killer - some of which the well-known lawyer said appeared to show an interest in continuing a relationship.

The messages between the pair continued for several days because, the witness said, she "didn't want to make him angry".

But Mansfield continued and also produced messages from November 8 when the woman asked if the accused was on the social media channel SnapChat.

"Then I could send you pictures throughout the day so you know what I'm up to :)," she said in one message to the alleged killer.

"You think I don't want you but that is totally not true," another read.

The witness admitted she was "leading on" the accused, which included conveying the possibility of a romantic future, but said it was all a lie to instead keep the man at a distance.

Mansfield said: "Did you just want people to not think you were into a guy who was now charged with murder?"

As the courtroom clock moved past 5pm Mansfield said he still had 40 more minutes worth of questions for the witness.

"Oh my God, I'm not coming back!" she cried, burying her head in her hands.

 

ON AIR: Overnight Talk

12AM - 5AM