The last few minutes in the life of a woman brutally stabbed to death by her former boyfriend on a Titahi Bay beach would have been horrific, a High Court judge said yesterday.
Justice Denis Clifford made his comment as he sentenced 34-year-old Porirua painter Tony Tiumalu to life imprisonment for the murder of Susanna Lemina Brown.
Ms Brown died in a parked car at the beach on her 33rd birthday on February 22 last year.
She had been arguing with Tiumalu, who could not accept that their relationship was over.
Tiumalu took a 14cm boning knife from the back seat of the car and stabbed Ms Brown at least 20 times in front of horrified onlookers, before kissing and embracing her limp body as police arrived.
He denied the murder charge, claiming the crime was manslaughter as he had been provoked by taunts from Ms Brown that she had been seeing other men.
A jury in the High Court at Wellington found Tiumalu guilty in September, and yesterday Justice Clifford sentenced him, setting a minimum period of 14 years before he becomes eligible for parole.
Wearing a black T-shirt, with his hair pulled back, Tiumalu stood in the dock with his head bowed, staring at the ground and occasionally raising his head to gaze at the ceiling.
Quiet crying could frequently be heard from the public gallery packed with family and supporters of both defendant and victim.
After the sentencing, Ms Brown's mother, Malia, struggled to keep her composure as she said her family could never forget what Tiumalu had done to her daughter.
Ms Brown had five children to an earlier partner, who were aged between 5 and 11 when she died.
The family were disappointed with the sentence, as they had hoped for a minimum non-parole period of 17 years, she said.
Crown prosecutor Grant Burston asked Justice Clifford to consider a 17-year non-parole period.
Defence lawyer Greg King said Tiumalu had been in a deteriorating state which culminated in the "horrendous display of violence" on Titahi Bay beach that day.
"It was a spontaneous, spur of the moment expression of violence by a person who simply could not cope with the situation he found himself in."
Immediately after the attack, Tiumalu had spoken of how much he loved Ms Brown, whose initials were tattooed on his hand, Mr King said.
The defence of provocation put forward by Tiumalu in the trial was in "no way, shape or form" intended as a criticism of Ms Brown, but rather was to show the state of mind of the accused.
Not one person ever had a bad word to say about Susanna Brown, Mr King said.
"Testimonies to her nature and spirit and character consistently and clearly paint a picture of a very worthwhile, decent person, and that adds to the tragedy of her demise."
Evidence was given at Tiumalu's trial that he and Ms Brown had been in a relationship for nearly five years when it began to break down at the end of 2004.
By January last year, the relationship was over, but the pair continued to see each other intermittently.
Tiumalu told the court his relationship with Ms Brown had been "strange", as they frequently broke up and then got back together.
Yesterday, Justice Clifford said Tiumalu had nine previous convictions, including three for violence, one of them against Ms Brown. The other two were against his former wife.
In assessing the time he should set as a minimum non-parole period, Justice Clifford acknowledged the difficulty of comparing one murder with another.
The most brutal murders, drawing a non-parole period of 17 years, must show a high level of brutality, depravity and callousness.
But there was "no such thing as a murder that is not in a very real sense brutal, depraved or callous".
The act of killing Ms Brown had a high level of brutality, he said.
Her last minutes alive would have been horrific.
She was conscious and trying to defend herself.
Witnesses heard "chilling, agonised screams" as the two to three-minute attack continued, but Tiumalu was not deterred by her cries for help or attempts by bystanders to prevent the killing.
But the attack took place over a short period and, on balance, Justice Clifford said, it was not at the top end of the scale.
However, he was not prepared to give Tiumalu the standard 10-year non-parole period.