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.
The 22-year-old university student’s alleged killer also took ‘trophy photographs’ following her death because of a ‘morbid interest in a dead woman’s genitalia,’ the jury heard, as the trial of a 27-year-old man accused of murder came to a close.
Prosecutor Brian Dickey made his closing speech at Auckland High Court saying there was a ‘compelling case of murder’ against the defendant, who claims Grace died after consenting to being choked during sex.
The defence argues that Grace died in a tragic accident during rough sex, and say the defendant’s actions after her death can be explained by panic.
Grace Millane (pictured) discussed BDSM sex with a man she met on a kinky dating app, including her interest in electrical nerve stimulation and ‘breathplay’ using a gas mask
A 27-year-old man, whose identity is also protected, has denied murdering Ms Millane (left and right) on December 1 last year, the night before her 22nd birthday
‘It’s not safe sex play that killed Grace Millane, it’s strangulation,’ said Mr Dickey.
‘At some point of 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.’
But defence barrister Ian Brookie argued that the alleged murderer was ‘just a young man who is prepared to do what his sexual partners want him to do in the bedroom.’
It was ‘abundantly clear’, barrister Ian Brookie told the jury, that Miss Millane, a backpacker from Wickford, Essex, liked to be choked during sex.
He said the pair had clearly discussed it, because the accused told police that Grace had learned BDSM techniques from a previous partner, a fact that he could not have known unless a discussion had taken place.
‘It was part of the sexual act they were doing and it was fun,’ said Mr Brookie. ‘He was not experienced enough to actually know how to do this properly and what the dangers actually were.
‘They were in the heat of the moment together, their judgment and perceptions were impaired by alcohol. They were focused on having sex
‘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,’ said Mr Brookie.
‘She was encouraging him to do this and to apply more force because this 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.
‘He reached orgasm and went to the shower. He never for a moment considered that Miss Millane might be in trouble.’
In summing up the prosecution case, Mr Dickey said evidence by expert pathology witnesses made it clear that it would take between five and ten minutes of sustained pressure before Grace, a university graduate from Essex, would have died.
And he said the Crown 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 27-year-old man who is accused of Grace’s murder, pictured centre in court, cannot be identified for legal reasons
Making their case: The jury heard closing speeches today from Crown prosecutor Brian Dickey, left, and defence lawyer Ian Brookie, right
Mr Dickey dismissed the man’s version of events in a second police interview, where he claimed he had fallen asleep in the shower of his apartment and found Grace 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 alleged.
In fact, he said, the man had been searching for a place and a way of disposing of Grace’s body and then taken seven intimate photographs of her before watching hardcore porn.
These were all facts he had avoided telling police when he admitted Grace had died in his room after a Tinder date last December.
‘There’s really no way out of the photographs for the defendant,’ said Mr Dickey. If they were taken while she was alive, it was proof he was already planning her death and disposal.
‘If she was dead, it proved the man had eroticised her death.’
‘You mustn’t forget she is just a living, breathing, happy young woman,’ he told the jury of seven women and five men.
‘She had a nice evening out. She had met someone she was interested in. She was walking around town, had some kissing
‘We are not talking about a body, we are talking about a real person.’
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 he said the man had still never admitted to causing her death, only ‘a little touchy touchy on the throat.’
Defending, Mr Brookie said there was no physical evidence of an assault, and that the accused had put sustained pressure on Grace’s neck because ‘that’s what he thought he was supposed to be doing.’
She told him she had begun her interest in BDSM through a past boyfriend but he told the court she was still quite naive
Justice Simon Moore, pictured today, has been presiding over the trial at Auckland High Court
The barrister admitted that on their date the man may have told Grace a ‘white lie’ about being an oil company manager, but only because ‘he is insecure, single, he is trying to find a relationship, trying to impress girls.’
And after her death, the man lied time and again about the events but 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.’
Mr Brookie said the prosecution’s attempt to prove seven intimate photos taken of Miss Millane were after her death rested on two internet searches he made minutes before.
The were for ‘waitakere ranges’, the hills where he later buried her body in a suitcase, and ‘hottest fire’.
The first, he said, ‘could have been about where they going to go the next day. She was a visitor to New Zealand,’ he said.
The second ‘could mean anything’. They could, he suggested, be part of the ‘phenomenon of the random Google search’ , which was ‘common during drunken conversations.’
The defendant, who chose not to give evidence, told police in an interview that he and Miss Millane had taken pictures of each others’ genitals during sex.
And he admitted throwing away the 21-year-old’s phone in a rubbish bin in the park. This, said Mr Brookie, was ‘an ill advised move because that phone contains evidence that helps him.’
‘This is not murder,’ said Mr Brookie, ‘it’s a tragic, unintended, unforeseen accident.’
Hitting back, Mr Dickey said the defence are not admitting murder or manslaughter, but are 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 Grace’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 in which he buried Grace’s body in the woods.
‘He 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.
‘Thats 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 Grace’s sexual history, during which she practiced consensual choking with a former partner, was irrelevant.
Her death, he said, ‘is not sex gone wrong’.
‘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.’
Judge Simon Moore will sum up the case on Friday morning before the jury consider their verdict.