A teen killer who stabbed a young, pregnant Rotorua woman to death in a frenzied and unprovoked attack with a carving knife 16 years ago will be freed from prison next month.

In 2002, 16-year-old John Wharekura knocked on the door of Tanya Burr's Hilda St flat and asked her for a piece of paper and pen, supposedly to write a note for a friend in a neighbouring flat.

When the 21-year-old turned to get it, he went inside and stabbed her 15 times. He was one of New Zealand's youngest killers.

At the time of the murder, Wharekura had an undiagnosed psychosis.

Tanya Burr, 21. Photo/File
Tanya Burr, 21. Photo/File

Burr's mother, Val Burr from Palmerston North, told the Rotorua Daily Post she had been dreading Wharekura's release.

A Parole Board decision, released upon request by the Rotorua Daily Post, said it was satisfied Wharekura's release would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community.

The board said it also accepted Wharekura's assurance that maintaining his medication regime would be his priority.

Among his release conditions were that he not enter Rotorua or Palmerston North, where Burr's family lives. He is also under strict orders not to possess or consume alcohol, controlled drugs or psychoactive substances.

He will be subject to the statutory drug and alcohol testing regime for five years and may be required to undergo random drug or alcohol testing.

The board's decision suppressed where he would live but said it was with a person Wharekura respected.

The decision said he also had close support in the area and his support people knew their responsibilities of letting authorities know if they detected Wharekura was not adhering to his release conditions or if his mental health deteriorated.

Police gather at the Hilda St flats in 2002. Photo/file
Police gather at the Hilda St flats in 2002. Photo/file

The board's decision said Wharekura's mental illness was well stabilised on medication. He had progressed to unescorted ground leaves and escorted community outings.


He returned to Auckland Prison in March of this year from another facility, which was suppressed from the decision, and started working in the joinery factory. He is also employed as the administration order, which is a trusted position within the prison.

Wharekura's lawyer submitted to the parole board Wharekura took responsibility for his actions immediately after the killing. He said he had developed insight into his mental health condition and had been compliant with medication.

He said he was actively playing sport and had a positive rapport with both staff and other prisoners.

The board's decision said Wharekura had successfully completed a range of programmes and courses while in prison.

The decision said a psychological assessment in June referred to his progress in prison and noted he had a well-developed insight with respect to mental health issues and the need for him to continue with his medication regime.

Among his release conditions are that he complete any programmes, counselling, treatment or courses directed by his probation officer, live at the address provided and not move unless he has prior written approval, not enter Rotorua or Palmerston North unless he has prior written approval, engage with Community Mental Health Services and take prescribed medication.

Val Burr said she "quite shocked" when she heard he was to be released.

"I have expected it obviously, but because I've had no particular knowledge of what state he's been in in recent years, I wasn't too sure that he'd manage it. I'm impressed by the fact that he has been actually doing something during his sentence besides gawking at the cell walls, and this report is the first time I've seen that."

She appealed to those around him to ensure he stuck to his release conditions, including taking his medication and not consuming illegal drugs and alcohol.

"He will need a huge amount of support ... to achieve that - or otherwise he will be back in the slammer again."

Tanya Burr. Photo/File
Tanya Burr. Photo/File

She said it had always been hard not knowing why he chose to kill Tanya.

"I have always been conscious that he apparently took out his hatred of someone on Tanya's body. It wasn't Tanya he hated, but someone else or some other people who had let him down in the days and weeks leading up to him killing Tanya."

She said that would always be in the back of her mind because that issue could still exist.

"They let him down and my daughter was slaughtered. We saw the damage to her, and I washed away Tanya's blood in the flat after we lifted that lounge carpet. That memory will stick with us for life."