After beating James Ingle to within an inch of his life Xavier Whenuaroa dragged his former step-father to his bedroom and executed him with one final blow of a hammer.
The motive for exactly why Whenuaroa murdered the well-known Levin man one night in September last year remains unclear, with the Crown claiming there simply wasn’t one, despite the level of brutality in the killing.
Regardless, Whenuaroa handed himself in to police just hours after he killed Ingle and gave a four-hour interview in which he confessed to killing him.
In that interview, he claimed that Ingle had wronged his family but the police summary of facts does not detail what those alleged wrongs were.
Today, Whenuaroa appeared at the High Court in Palmerston North to be sentenced for charges of murder and arson which he pleaded guilty to in October this year.
Crown prosecutor Guy Carter said this morning Whenuaroa’s crime was especially brutal and emphasised that it appeared completely without motive.
“It’s simply an inexplicable act… there is no motive or evidence to support that there was basis for the motive here,” Carter said.
“It’s for that reason that the Crown says this justifies an appropriately stern sentence.”
A pre-sentence report noted how Whenuaroa had taken MDMA, cannabis, LSD and alcohol on the night he murdered Ingle and that a discussion of their family history simply made him snap.
The report noted that following the breakdown of his relationship a week prior Whenuaroa was struggling with his mental health and substance abuse.
Justice Dale La Hood said while Whenuaroa had some difficulty in his childhood, he had no history of sexual or physical abuse against him that might explain his offending.
“It appears the offending was shockingly out of character for you… and you were as shocked that it happened as everyone who knows you,” the judge said.
Justice La Hood said the murder was “brutal and frenzied” and he sentenced Whenuaroa to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 13 years.
According to the summary of facts Whenuaroa had been drinking alcohol with a friend on September 6 last year before he walked to Ingle’s house on Queenwood Rd in Levin.
While there he had a few drinks with Ingle before the discussion became heated when Ingle’s relationship with Whenuaroa’s mother and sister was brought up.
Whenuaroa then grabbed a hammer and hit Ingle in the head. The pair fought on the floor of the lounge and Ingle was struck a number of times with the hammer.
The fight then spilled out into the hallway and then into the bathroom with Ingle sustaining another five to 10 blows from the hammer.
Whenuaroa then dragged the semi-conscious Ingle down the hallway and into the bedroom where he struck him one final time in the head with the hammer before stealing the victim’s wallet, keys, and car and fleeing the scene.
He drove around the Kāpiti Coast area and purchased petrol, cigarettes and food with Ingle’s eftpos card before returning to the address.
There he sat with Ingle’s body for a time before setting the curtains on fire.
He left, purchased more alcohol, and then got in touch with friends and told them what he’d done before he handed himself in to police.
Whenuaroa’s lawyer, Simon Hewson, told the court his client didn’t have any history of mental illness and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
Hewson said following the murder Whenuaroa contacted his friends and handed himself in to police before giving a four-hour-long interview.
“The defendant never shied away from his culpability in this charge,” he said.
Hewson noted his client had no prior convictions except for a family violence incident against his former partner the week prior to the murder.
Hewson said this was not a premeditated incident and that Whenuaroa hadn’t brought the hammer with him.
“They consumed alcohol together and then something went wrong,” Hewson told the court.
“It happened, it’s spontaneous, it’s totally regrettable and avoidable.”
Hewson said the fire that his client started after the incident wasn’t intended to destroy evidence of the murder but instead to take his own life which he ultimately couldn’t go through with.
Ingle’s younger sister told the court police didn’t want the family to see his face after the murder.
“We had to cremate his body without a chance to see him one last time,” she told the court this morning.
“I think about the way he was taken often.”
Throughout her victim impact statement, she did not refer to Whenuaroa by name, instead referring to him as “the murderer” or “the criminal”.
“The way the murderer then set fire to his house and stole his keys and wallet hurts deeply as he (Ingle) was so deeply disrespected after his life was taken,” she said.
Ingle’s younger brother Paul Ingle said his brother didn’t deserve to die that way.
“The horrific nature of the murder has impacted me because I often find myself reliving that night and thinking about how much James would have suffered,” he said.
However, he said he forgave Whenuaroa.
“I am committed to the journey of healing and I can only trust that justice will be served for my brother.”
Jeremy Wilkinson is an Open Justice reporter based in Manawatū covering courts and justice issues with an interest in tribunals. He has been a journalist for nearly a decade and has worked for NZME since 2022.