Cold-case killer Mark Edward Pakenham back in prison: 'I wish I never have to hear his name again'

By Belinda Feek

Mark Edward Pakenham was charged for the manslaughter of Kerepehi woman Sara Niethe. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mark Edward Pakenham was charged for the manslaughter of Kerepehi woman Sara Niethe. Photo / Christine Cornege

A cold-case killer lasted less than a week on the outside before being hauled back behind bars.

Mark Edward Pakenham, 54, was released on June 22 after serving four years of his six-year, seven-month prison sentence for the manslaughter of Kerepehi woman Sara Niethe in 2003.

Corrections this morning said the house Pakenham was paroled to was "deemed unsuitable" and as there was no alternative accommodation he was put back in custody.

Pakenham initially denied any involvement in Ms Niethe's death and he was not arrested until 2011 after he made partial confessions to associates about his involvement in the case.

His actions have scarred the Niethe family because not long after Pakenham was jailed having said Ms Niethe died as a result of an accidental overdose, he told a Parole Board he made the story up to avoid a murder conviction.

He has refused to reveal where her body is.

Now the family are shocked and angry he was released in the first place and question whether he is safe back in the community.

But for now, he is back in custody. After being paroled from Waikeria Prison on June 22 he was issued with 10 special conditions - including not to drink, to abide by a 10pm-6am curfew and not to contact family members. A warrant was issued for his arrest on June 28.

Corrections Department district manager Pauline Hopa confirmed Pakenham had been recalled to prison to continue serving his sentence, but declined to say why - other than that he was not alleged to have committed any offence.

"Our primary priority is the safety of the community. An offender can be recalled if they pose an undue risk to the safety of the community; have breached their release conditions; have committed an offence punishable by imprisonment; or, if subject to residential restrictions, their address becomes unsuitable or unavailable," Ms Hopa said.

Recall hearings usually take place within 14 to 28 days.

The Parole Board sent a letter to Ms Niethe's family, dated June 28, saying an interim recall had been issued for Pakenham's arrest.

"At that hearing they will then decide whether he will continue to serve his sentence in prison," the board wrote.

When contacted by the Herald, members of Ms Niethe's family say they are not surprised he's back behind bars.

"He's been in and out of prison since he was about 15. I don't think going in there for that period of his life is going to change his ways," a family member said.

He was surprised Pakenham had been released, given he had changed his story and refused to reveal where Ms Niethe's body was.

"I just assumed that he wouldn't get any leeway or leniency shown until he said something or his sentence ran out," the man said.

Mark Edward Pakenham (right) in court. Photo / Alan Gibson
Mark Edward Pakenham (right) in court. Photo / Alan Gibson

Another family member said: "I was shocked that someone would think it's okay to let him get out.

"Why didn't they think it was necessary to have him serve his entire sentence? He was given it as punishment for killing her and it was little enough to start with. It was very hurtful thinking someone could think that [her] life was only worth four years. She's never coming back and they allowed him to get out a year and a half early, it's horrible."

She said the family had "given up on justice".

"I wish my family and I would never have to hear his name again."

A member of Miss Niethe's family, who did not want to be named, says he can't help but wonder why Pakenham was released to the property in the first place if he only lasted a few days.

"What criteria did they use, or did he just say? I thought he's probably just given them an address and got someone to write from the address saying 'yeah it's all good he can come here' or sign the appropriate form ... you always wonder. I wondered straight away, why are they releasing someone with so many conditions? Is he really suitable [for release]?"

He said although it was a "bummer" for Pakenham himself being back in prison, they were pleased to hear that he was locked up again and now hoped that he would stay there for as long as possible.

He added that he was pleased that the issue was minor and did not involve anyone getting attacked or was a domestic violence incident.

In a 2014 parole hearing, Pakenham back-tracked on his original story that he injected Ms Niethe full of drugs. He said he made that up for fear of being convicted of murder.

A family spokesperson said Ms Niethe's three children - Danielle, Simone and Dion - had all grown into "exceptional young adults" who were respected in their communities and held good jobs.

Danielle was just days away from turning 10 when her mother disappeared. Simone was 8 and Dion 12.

Dion, now 25, holds a job as an engineer in Auckland, while Danielle, 23, is the mother of two children, aged 3 and 1, and Simone is the mother of a 4-year-old daughter.

"They're actually just the most strongest, amazing human beings, who hold their heads up and have not become criminals or nasty people themselves but have turned out lovely, hard-working, caring humans that should have actually been quite mean and nasty and gone quite different paths."

- NZ Herald

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