A jury in New Zealand on Friday has convicted a 27-year-old man of murdering a British female backpacker, a case that shocked the country and raised questions about its reputation as a safe, easy-going holiday destination.
Grace Millane, 22, went missing in Auckland on December 1 last year, while travelling after finishing university.
Police found her body on December 9 in bushland just a few metres from a scenic drive in the Waitakere Ranges.
The man, whose name has been suppressed by the court, met Millane on the evening of December 1 through dating app Tinder, the jury heard. He pleaded not guilty to murder, arguing that she died accidentally during consensual sex.
The jury rejected the argument, convicting him just hours after beginning deliberations. The man is due to be sentenced on February 21 and faces life in prison for murder.
“It is natural for you to have sympathy for the Millane family and for Grace, who was here on what should have been a happy and exciting adventure,” Auckland High Court Judge Simon Moore told jurors in his summing up, news organisation Stuff reported.
The man’s lawyer, Ian Brookie, could not be reached for comment, Reuters news agency reported.
Millane’s parents, David and Gillian, were present throughout the trial.
“Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever,” her father told reporters outside the court.
“It will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure,” he said of the verdict.
“Grace was taken in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart.”
The judge thanked the jurors for their service in what he called a particularly difficult case.
Prosecutors had told the jury the convicted man took several photos of Millane’s body on December 2.
Later that day, he placed the body in a suitcase and drove in a hire car to where he buried her.
Millane’s death shocked many in New Zealand, which prides itself on welcoming tourists and on the large number of its citizens who travel abroad as well.
The case also stirred public debate about violence against women in a country where serious crime was once considered rare.
Thousands of people held candlelight vigils after Millane’s death in an outpouring of grief, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about New Zealanders feeling “hurt and shame” that she was killed in their country.