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An Iraqi refugee jailed yesterday for stabbing two men to death in Auckland blamed the attack on his torture in one of Saddam Hussein's jails.

Baseem Ridha Kadhim Abbad al Amery, 31, was granted refugee status in 2001 after he fled Iraq where he claimed he had been locked up, tortured and sentenced to death.

But in the High Court at Auckland yesterday, Justice Rhys Harrison rejected Amery's troubled past as a mitigating factor, saying much of what he said was self-serving, self-obsessive and lacked empathy for his victims.

"If anything, members of this society would have expected that a person who has been given asylum and the opportunity of a new life in a country of social and political stability that values the sanctity of human life would respect that privilege - not abuse it in the way you have chosen."

Amery was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 18 years for the murders of David Roberts, 43, and Deni Rudiantonio, 41. Mr Roberts was from Wales and Mr Rudiantonio from Indonesia.

The two men got in Amery's way on July 14 last year when he was intending to kill his former girlfriend.

Mr Roberts was property manager of Alpha Apartments in central Auckland, and Amery went to him for the master key so he could get to his former girlfriend, Ying Wang. He wanted to kill her because she had left him.

Yesterday, he was also sentenced to one year's jail for threatening to kill Miss Wang.

In mitigation, defence lawyer Charles Cato said: "He [Amery] had a terrible period in Iraq under the hands of that monstrous man Hussein."

Justice Harrison said Amery "may have suffered great trauma in Iraq as a teenager and this may explain why you showed such little regard for the lives of two innocent men."

But, he said, that was no excuse for what Amery did.

"The killings were particularly cruel. You had a large lethal weapon and you had them cornered in a small bathroom without defence. You disabled each man at an early stage then continued your attack without restraint."

Mr Roberts was stabbed 12 times, the 20cm blade slicing his windpipe and jugular vein before severing his spinal cord, which would have paralysed him. Mr Rudiantonio was stabbed in the neck and the wounds completely divided his windpipe, oesophagus, both carotid arteries and the right internal jugular vein.

After the murders Amery cleaned himself up, went to Miss Wang's room and threatened her with the knife. He then said he couldn't kill her and called a friend who alerted police.

Justice Harrison told the court he had sentenced many murderers but only two had approached Amery's level of brutality.

Amery had written to his victims' families begging for forgiveness but some relatives had told in their victim impact statements of their hatred of him.

Outside court, a friend of Mr Roberts and Mr Rudiantonio spoke of their "caring and gentle nature".

Craig McConnochie said he had known them about a year.

"They were really tremendous guys, they were doing a lot of good. They were both quite religious in their views and had helped orphans over in Africa ... they had helped out an orphanage there," he said.

"They were such nice guys, very gentle. They were very worldly and we had a lot in common. Not having them around, not being able to talk to them has been very difficult."

He couldn't forgive Amery. "I'm not sure what I'd say to him. I'm still trying to get over what he did."