WARNING: This article discusses graphic violence and may be upsetting to some readers.
As emotional statements were being read by the family of a woman who was killed “execution-style”, her killer collapsed in the dock.
The thud Raymond Charles Phillimore created as he dropped to the floor reverberated through the courtroom in the High Court at Whangārei, causing everyone to turn and look.
He was pulled up by security guards and told by Justice Peter Andrew to take a seat, where he remained until his sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum period of 13 years was handed down for the murder of his partner, Gaelene Bright.
While it was unclear what had caused Phillimore to collapse at the hearing on Thursday, he had been standing for around an hour as nine victim impact statements were read.
Those statements included descriptions of Phillimore as being arrogant, self-centred, toxic and disrespectful.
Her children said Bright, 69, loved everyone and always turned a house into a home.
However, they talked about noticing a change in their mother prior to her death and said Phillimore was driving a wedge between her and those she loved.
“I could tell Mum wasn’t happy, this once bubbly bright woman seemed to be dragging her head,” one daughter said.
“In my last phone call with her, she was crying about how bad her relationship was as she walked down to the shop to get him something.”
Her children said Bright welcomed Phillimore into their family and gave him a home, nursed him when he was sick and financially supported him throughout their relationship as he did not have a job.
“She was loved by many because she showed love to many,” said another daughter.
“She was the one person I turned to, my cornerstone, my North star.”
When the mother of five went missing, her children and local community spent days searching for her, specifically in the Waipoua forest where her body was eventually found.
She had three gunshot wounds to the head and chest and her body was covered in ferns, fronds and leaves.
“When I close my eyes, I’m haunted by two images. My mum’s beautiful smile and the other is the image formed from the deepest heartache. Her body lying in the forest, lifeless, carelessly discarded,” daughter Luella Bright said.
The couple lived on an isolated property in Waimamaku in the Hokianga and had been in a relationship for three years.
In the early hours of May 1, 2022, neighbours reported hearing what sounded like gunshots at the property.
Phillimore had shot Bright and then loaded her body into a Holden Rodeo and drove to a nearby area in the bush.
He manoeuvred her body over an embankment and covered her with sticks and leaves.
After he noticed a road maintenance team along the road later that day, he returned to the site and moved her further from the roadside.
Phillimore then lit a fire, disposed of items used to get rid of her body and packed his belongings, including the Toz brand .22 bolt-action rifle he used to shoot Bright.
Phillimore told witnesses Bright had gone to Auckland with an unknown male and left her dog with a neighbour.
He then travelled south, abandoning his vehicle in Te Kuiti before continuing on to Napier.
On May 9, members of the public noticed Phillimore in the water drifting several hundred metres down the beach and were concerned about his behaviour, notifying the police.
He was taken to hospital and police would later locate the .22 rifle in a makeshift driftwood hut.
Phillimore confessed to the killing and told Hastings police he had “shot her until she stopped” and told them where her body was located.
Behaviour that he went on to display in court following his arrest was highlighted by Bright’s family as being arrogant and self-centred.
“Disrespectful, complained about wearing a mask, talked over the judge ... your lack of self-awareness is disgusting,” one of her daughters said.
Crown lawyer Mike Smith agreed with the victim’s family’s assessment of Phillimore as self-centred and submitted that he had continued to victim-blame.
Defence lawyer Leo Lafferty said his client accepted he had killed Bright and apologised for the effect it had on her loved ones.
Justice Peter Andrew said the couple’s relationship had begun to deteriorate after they returned from the Wellington protests with differing views of their experience.
“Your actions, you said, were claimed by you that she was seeing other men,” Justice Andrew told Phillimore.
“You shot her once in the chest and twice in the head, it was execution-style ... There was no pre-meditation but rather a loss of control and failure to accept the change in the relationship.”
Phillimore pleaded guilty to the charge of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm in May this year, only weeks before a trial was about to begin, which Justice Andrew said came too late in the piece.
“She was obviously a bright light, a woman described as having special energy, she lived a full and meaningful life that you took from them.”
Phillimore was jailed for life with a minimum period of 13 years on the murder charge and one year for unlawfully possessing the firearm.
Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/Ngātiwai/Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked freelance in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.