WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
A man and a teenager who beat their farm colleague into unconsciousness, chained him to a car by his ankle and dragged him 1km along a gravel tanker track have been jailed for life.
Jacob Mills Ramsay’s body was dumped into a man-made rubbish pit at the Oaonui, South Taranaki, dairy farm.
William Mark Candy, 39, and Ethan Webster, 19, admitted killing the 33-year-old father-of-three and were in the High Court at New Plymouth today for sentencing.
Candy will be behind bars for at least 17 years of his sentence, while Webster will have to serve at least 12 years.
The court heard the July 2022 murder followed an alleged “small” debt that Ramsay had racked up with the offenders.
Candy and Webster were workers on the same farm as Ramsay. While the two had been in their roles for at least three years, Ramsay’s employment had only begun about one month before his death.
At the sentencing, Ramsay’s widow Sarah Tasker told the court she was pregnant with their third child when he was killed.
Olliver was born in September last year and the couple also share son Hunter, 5. Ramsay was the stepfather of Tasker’s oldest son, Lucus, 11.
The pain in losing Ramsay, who she fondly referred to as “Jake”, has been “unreal”. If not for the support of her family and friends, she wouldn’t have gotten through the past few months, she said.
Immediately following the murder, Tasker said “it felt like my heart was absolutely smashed into one million pieces.” That now has evolved into anger.
Lucus and Hunter also provided the court with victim impact statements.
Lucus said he felt “sad inside” when Ramsay died and that life has since been “dull” as his mother, Tasker, has been “sad, stressed and tired”.
“I feel like I need to step up and be the man of the house.”
Hunter said he missed “everything” he used to do with his father. This included going to the farm, to the beach, to the park and camping.
When his mother told him Ramsay had died, “it made me very sad and made me cry,” he said.
“The biggest thing that makes me sad is that he will never get to meet or hug Olliver, or hug me, or my brother or my mum ever again.”
Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke said the murder met the legal definition of depravity. She submitted it was of a high level of brutality, cruelty, and callousness.
Aggravating factors included the use of a weapon - that being the chain and the vehicle, Ramsay’s vulnerability, his loss of life and the harm caused, that there were multiple offenders, and premeditation.
Clarke said there was also an element of vigilante justice involved given the alleged debt.
She sought a minimum period of imprisonment (MPI) of 17 to 19 years for Candy, who also admitted to wounding and kidnapping Ramsay.
Webster had a lesser part in the murder but still played a “particularly serious” role in the violence inflicted, Clarke said.
She argued an MPI of 13 to 15 years was warranted in the teen’s case, accepting he was entitled to credit for his youth and previous good character.
Defence lawyer Paul Keegan said the murder was borne out of the escalating and unfathomable “pure rage” of his client, Candy.
While Keegan accepted most of the aggravating factors, he said it was a stretch to call it vigilante justice.
Candy, who was intoxicated at the time of the killing, struggled to recall what occurred and was remorseful and willing to address his issues with a psychologist.
Keegan accepted Candy would be jailed for life and argued for an MPI of around 16 years.
However, lawyer Nathan Bourke submitted it would be manifestly unjust to sentence his client, Webster, to life behind the wire.
Bourke instead argued the teen should be sentenced to 16 years in jail with an MPI of eight years.
He said Webster’s involvement wasn’t premeditated but was rather spontaneous violence “amped up and egged on” by Candy.
Bourke submitted the impulsive nature of his offending was indicative of a young adult who was still developing neurologically.
While a “serious and brutal” murder, Webster, who left school at 13 and is unable to read or write, was less culpable, he said.
He has shown genuine remorse and has strong prospects of rehabilitation.
Justice Peter Churchman accepted the murder met the highest level of brutality.
He said the summary of the offending made for harrowing reading and it involved “savage violence” executed with cruel disregard for the victim.
As a result, the judge handed down a life sentence to both Candy and Webster. He acknowledged Webster’s lesser role but found it would not be manifestly unjust to warrant such a sentence.
Candy was given an MPI of 17 years while Webster was given an MPI of 12 years.
Beaten, chained and dragged
On the evening of July 29, Ramsay was in Oakura, about a 30-minute drive from the farm. There, he texted another farmworker asking to be picked up and driven home.
When Candy got wind of the communication, he told the farmworker to continue messaging Ramsay so he could find him and confront him about the alleged money owed.
Candy soon found Ramsay at the Oakura cemetery and immediately punched him in the face and pushed him down a grass bank.
As Ramsay attempted to defend himself, Candy rained blows upon his victim while wrestling him to the ground.
He overpowered Ramsay, kneeling on his chest while continuing to punch him.
A member of the public approached the scene and asked what was going on. This didn’t stop Candy, who continued to beat Ramsay while accusing him of stealing money and “ruining the farm”.
The witness told Candy to get off Ramsay, which he did, but he then continued to kick him as he lay on the ground.
Fearing for their own safety and due to Candy’s level of aggression, the witness didn’t physically intervene, the court heard.
Shortly after, Candy grabbed Ramsay and began forcing him into the car. He was driven back to the farm while being periodically assaulted by Candy.
He was no longer resisting and was leaning against the passenger door in a semi-conscious state, the court heard.
About 7.15pm, they pulled into the farm where Webster was awaiting their arrival.
Ramsay was now unconscious. Candy shoved his body from the car and onto the ground. His eyes were closed and he was limp and floppy.
Webster grabbed Ramsay by the throat and delivered a number of blows to his head, only stopping when he thought he had broken his hand.
Candy kicked the victim and Webster began stomping on his head.
“Get his money’s worth now boy,” Candy said to Webster, who responded: “Yip, scummy piece of shit.”
The two men beat Ramsay for a further 10 minutes. At one point, a witness pleaded for them to stop and take Ramsay to the hospital.
“F*** that, this piece of s***’s not going anywhere,” Candy said. That’s when he fetched the chain and tied Ramsay to the back of the vehicle.
The witness told him what he was doing was wrong but Candy warned them to back off or they’d “be next”.
After slowly driving forward, he stopped the vehicle and Webster jumped into the passenger seat.
“You don’t want to be in here for this, this is serious s***. He might be dead by the time we get to the end of the track,” Candy told Webster.
But Webster remained in the car and for about 900m, Ramsay was dragged by his ankle down a gravel tanker track and across a muddy paddock.
The two men then detached the chain from the car and pulled Ramsay at least another 20m to the edge of the rubbish pit where they dumped his body.
Ramsay was bleeding profusely and the skin on the rear of his head had been torn off down to his skull, giving the appearance that he had been “scalped”, the court heard.
He sustained a host of injuries, including numerous fractures and abrasions to his entire back and buttocks. An autopsy determined he died as a result of multiple blunt-force injuries.
Birth after death
About six weeks after Ramsay’s death, his son, Olliver, was born on his due date of September 13.
His widow Sarah Tasker previously told NZME the newborn was identical to his father when he was a baby.
She said she felt emotional going through labour without her husband at her side and she had him in mind the entire time.
“I was wearing his wedding ring at the time to make myself feel as close to him as possible.”
Tasker, who married Ramsay in January 2021, was at a midwife appointment when police phoned her and delivered the news her husband was dead.
Following the birth of Olliver, who recently had photos taken of him tucked inside his dad’s wedding waistcoat, Tasker said she was enjoying her new baby but his arrival remained shrouded in sadness.
“We’re taking everything day by day. It’s going to take a long time for everyone to heal from this horrific tragedy.”
Jodie Shannon Hughes, 30, was charged with murder, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, kidnapping and burglary in relation to Ramsay’s death. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges and will go to trial in August.