A New Zealand jury has found a man guilty of murder in the death of 22-year-old British backpacker Grace Millane.
Millane died last December on her birthday after meeting a man through the dating app Tinder, going out for drinks with him and then returning to his hotel room in Auckland.
The name of the 27-year-old convict is being kept secret for now by court order, a restriction that is sometimes imposed in the New Zealand judicial system. The man will probably face a mandatory life sentence, which comes with a minimum 10-year non-parole period. He is due to be sentenced Feb. 21.
Prosecutors said the man strangled Millane, while defense lawyers had argued that the pair had been engaged in consensual erotic choking that went too far.
The jury didn’t buy that defense. They deliberated for several hours Friday afternoon before returning the guilty verdict.
After the trial, Millane’s parents, Gillian and David, tearfully told media the verdict was welcomed by friends and family alike.
“It will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure over the past year,” David Millane said. “Grace was taken in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart.”
He said, “Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever.”
Millane had been traveling through New Zealand as part of a planned yearlong trip abroad after graduating from college.
After the man killed Millane, he stuffed her body into a suitcase, drove to the Waitakere Ranges forest and buried her in a shallow grave, where police found her body a week later.
Her death shocked many in New Zealand, which prides itself on welcoming tourists and where many people travel abroad as well. Hundreds of people attended candlelight vigils after she died, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about New Zealanders feeling “hurt and shame” that she was killed in their country.
Tourism is also one of New Zealand’s largest industries, accounting for more than 20% of foreign exchange earnings and about 6% of the overall economy.
The case has been closely followed in Britain as well.
One woman, who had previously dated the man, testified she feared for her life during a sexual encounter with him after the man restricted her breathing without her consent.
Prosecutors said the man took explicit photos of Millane after she died, RNZ reported, and used Google to search for “Waitakere Ranges” and “hottest fire” as he tried to figure out how to dispose of her body.
Defense lawyers argued Millane’s death came down to two young, drunk and inexperienced people taking rough sex too far. The man told police that Millane had asked him to choke her and then encouraged him to use more force.