A man who stabbed a pregnant Rotorua woman to death 15 years ago in a random attack will remain behind bars for at least another year to ensure his mental health issues are under control.

John Wharekura has been denied parole for the second time after being sentenced to life imprisonment with 14 years' non-parole for the 2002 killing of Tanya Burr in Rotorua.

Miss Burr's mother, Val Burr, said it was a good decision because it had long been her "gut feeling" he would offend again once released.

Wharekura was just 16 when he knocked on Miss Burr's door at her Hilda St flat asking for a pen and paper to write a note, supposedly for a friend in a neighbouring flat. When she turned to get it, he went inside and stabbed her 15 times. He was one of New Zealand's youngest killers.


Miss Burr was pregnant at the time but had not yet told her family and friends.

Tanya Burr, 21, who was pregnant, was stabbed to death in her Hilda St flat by John Wharekura. Photo/file
Tanya Burr, 21, who was pregnant, was stabbed to death in her Hilda St flat by John Wharekura. Photo/file

Wharekura was denied parole last year and appeared again at the end of last month.

The board's decision, released upon request by the Rotorua Daily Post, said parole was declined as Wharekura needed to demonstrate he was committed to taking his medication for his mental health issues.

At the time of the murder, he had an undiagnosed psychosis.

The board's decision said Wharekura had setbacks in the early stages of his sentence when he assaulted a prisoner and prison officer. However, since 2008 he had been compliant.

Although Wharekura was eligible for parole he didn't seek it and the decision noted he had good insight into what was required for him to complete rehabilitation and reintegration measures.

He has had a family hui to develop support networks but it was in a formative stage. He did not have an address yet to go but had indicated he eventually wanted to be released to the Northland area where most of his family were, the decision said.

"On all of the information before us, the management of Mr Wharekura's risk to the community is dependent upon his taking the required medication. He is aware of this," the decision said.


Wharekura asked if he could be seen again in six months but the board thought that was too soon and there was more work for him to undertake in the form of treatment and escorted outings to help his recovery and gradual reintegration.

Val Burr, who addressed the parole board in person, said while she was confident Wharekura would not be given parole until his mental health had stabilised, she would always fear what could happen if he didn't take his medication.

"You hear bad stories about when they let people out and things go wrong. My gut feeling is things will go wrong ... He is only as good as his medication but if he stops taking his medication everyone is screwed."

She said Rotorua residents would be happy he wouldn't be released into this area but she feared Northland might not be good either, given its high rate of drug offending. Abuse of drugs had been a contributing factor in Miss Burr's murder.

Wharekura would be seen again by the parole board before August 31 next year.