Serial rapist Malcolm Rewa has been sentenced to life imprisonment for one of New Zealand's most infamous killings - the 1992 murder of Susan Burdett.

The case - which has spanned 27 years, five trials and saw an innocent man locked away for two decades - eventually saw Rewa unanimously found guilty at his third trial over the murder last month.

Today, the 66-year-old was sentenced by Justice Geoffrey Venning in the High Court at Auckland.

After the judge ensured Rewa may never be set free, members of the public gallery began clapping.

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Rewa's life sentence will be served concurrently with his existing punishment, a 22 year preventive detention sentence for the serial rapes.

Justice Venning said Rewa remained a manipulative and controlling person who remains a danger to the community.

Burdett was bludgeoned to death with the baseball bat she kept for protection in her South Auckland home in 1992.

"Malcolm Rewa, on the night of March 23, 1992, you broke into Susan Burdett's home. You attacked her, you raped her and you killed her," Justice Venning said.

"The evidence against you was overwhelming.

"This was a particularly brutal attack following a home invasion, and committed in the course of another serious offence."

The judge said Rewa, having watched him throughout the trial and sentencing, showed "no indication of remorse".

'Chronicle of remorseless and depraved destruction'

Rewa had two previous trials in 1998 over the 39-year-old accounts clerk's murder.

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Both resulted in the juries being unable to reach a conclusion. Rewa was, however, convicted of Burdett's rape at his second trial.

When sentenced for the serial rapes, the then judge said Rewa's crimes were a "chronicle of remorseless, depraved and destructive cruelty".

Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes said no minimum period of imprisonment could be imposed for Rewa for the murder conviction because it was not an option under law at the time of Burdett's killing.

"It is a murder involving a high-degree of culpability, which should be measured by a sentence of life imprisonment," he said.

Susan Burdett was a 39-year-old who loved tenpin bowling. Photo / Supplied
Susan Burdett was a 39-year-old who loved tenpin bowling. Photo / Supplied

In the courtroom today, as on the day of the murder verdict after a two-week trial, was private investigator Tim McKinnel.

Along with lawyers and journalists, McKinnel led the pursuit against one of this country's great injustices - the prosecution of Teina Pora.

Pora was just 17 years old when he was arrested and later twice wrongly convicted for murdering Burdett.

He spent 22 years in prison.

Justice Venning said Rewa "took advantage" of Pora's false confession.

Finally, after McKinnel's efforts with the aid of lawyers Jonathan Krebs and Ingrid Squire, Pora's conviction was quashed by the Privy Council in London during 2015.

Pora has since received a government apology and $3.5 million in compensation.

A 1998 stay of the murder charge against Rewa was lifted in 2017, allowing the third trial to proceed.

Teina Pora twice wrongly convicted of the murder and spent 22 years in prison. Photo / Michael Craig
Teina Pora twice wrongly convicted of the murder and spent 22 years in prison. Photo / Michael Craig

McKinnel has described the guilty verdict as "justice merged with truth".

The five trials - three for Rewa and two for Pora - had been tough for Burdett's family, with a great deal of uncertainty and difficult times, he said.

"It always involved two families - Teina's and Susan's, you couldn't deal with one without the other."

McKinnel also described Rewa as a "monster".

For Pora, McKinnel has said, the guilty verdict for Rewa was a day Pora had been waiting for.

Detective: He's a predator

Detective Superintendent Dave Lynch said police hoped today's sentencing would provide "some form of closure" for Burdett's family after 27 years.

Burdett's brother Jim Burdett was in court for the emotional day.

"We acknowledge and appreciate this has been a difficult time for her family and we also wish to once again thank all the witnesses who gave evidence in court," Lynch said.

"I also want to acknowledge again the Crown and police investigative team for their hard work and dedication over the past two years on this case."

Malcolm Rewa, pictured in the dock during his third trial. Photo / Michael Craig
Malcolm Rewa, pictured in the dock during his third trial. Photo / Michael Craig

Lynch had also spoken to two of Rewa's rape victims, who were in court this morning, and said they were pleased with the sentence.

"He's a predator and I think today's outcome has said it all," Lynch told reporters outside the High Court.

During the trial the court heard the attack on Burdett displayed all the hallmarks of a typical Rewa crime.

Twenty of Rewa's other rape cases were used as evidence in the trial, several of which included the victim having had their legs crossed or dangling over the bed, their eyes blindfolded, and top half covered.

Burdett was found by a friend lying naked on her bed, her upper half covered with a blood-soaked blue duvet, and her legs crossed and hanging over the side of the bed.

Malcolm Rewa being escorted to the Otahuhu police station by detectives in May 1996. Photo / NZ Herald
Malcolm Rewa being escorted to the Otahuhu police station by detectives in May 1996. Photo / NZ Herald

Kayes said Rewa, after slipping in through a window, surprised Burdett as she prepared for bed - a style of attack he was known for.

The Court of Appeal permitted the Crown to use most of Rewa's previous rape convictions as evidence of a pattern of offending.

During pre-trial hearings, defence counsel Paul Chambers also argued historical media publicity was prejudicial to Rewa's case.

At the trial, Chambers told the court Burdett knew her killer and accused her son Dallas McKay of the murder.

McKay had inherited $250,000 from his mum's life insurance policy after she altered her will, the court heard.

But Rewa took advantage of Burdett's son having recently come into his mum's life, Justice Venning said today.

"The jury rightly rejected that suggestion. It was without any evidential foundation," he said.

Malcolm Rewa gave evidence in his third trial. Video / Pool
Malcolm Rewa gave evidence in his third trial. Video / Pool

Rewa, who gave evidence in his own defence, also claimed he was in a secret sexual relationship with Burdett - which he said explained his semen being found at the crime scene.

Justice Venning said today this claim was "a further injustice and indignity on Ms Burdett and her memory".

He said there was no evidence to suggest a secret sexual relationship and the Burdett family has had to live with Rewa's lies "hanging over them for 27 years".

However, the serial rapist will appeal his murder conviction, Chambers told the Herald just a few days after the verdict.

The lawyer said the appeal will focus on jury bias, propensity evidence, physical evidence, the lifting of the stay of the murder charge and suppression orders.

A point of contention, he added, was how quickly the jury returned its verdict - less than four hours.

Chambers said it was "one of the indicators of jury bias".