A man who stabbed his former partner to death in a District Court waiting room while waiting for a custody hearing is still considered too dangerous for parole, despite being locked up for more than two decades.

John Harold La Roche murdered Margaret Bennellick in Palmerston North on July 17, 1998.

The pair had been in an intermittent relationship and had three children - but had not been together for about five years when the murder happened.

There had been ongoing issues over custody of the children.


On the day of the murder, a judicial conference had been scheduled to undertake an annual review of the situation.

Neither La Roche or Bennellick were part of the review - but both came to court on the day.

After speaking to his lawyer, La Roche became upset and emotional.

He said he was going for a walk and went to his adult son's house nearby and picked up
two knives.

He then returned to court and stabbed Bennellick repeatedly in front of multiple witnesses including the adult son, a friend who had come to court to support him, and the three younger children's social worker.

As Bennellick lay injured on the floor of the foyer, La Roche continued the attack.

The friend would later tell police he heard a scream and went to see what had happened.


"He saw Mrs Bennellick on the floor covered in blood ... La Roche 'was there rocking and rocking like a person when he was drunk," the court would later hear.

La Roche was charged with murder but pleaded not guilty.

At his trial he claimed he was driven to kill Bennellick because he feared his children were in danger of being abused.

He said the court process had also been a provocation.

In December 1998, La Roche was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to life in prison.

He appealed the conviction on the basis of lack of murderous intent.

However, the Court of Appeal rejected the bid, saying the Crown case at trial was that the murder was not impulsive.


In fact, the Crown said La Roche had been considering killing Bennellick for some time; "numerous excerpts" from his diary in the year leading up to the violent killing were presented to the jury in evidence.

Before the murder, La Roche had multiple breaches of non-molestation and protection orders.

La Roche has been refused parole a number of times - most recently in May.

The Parole Board decision has now been published.

In it, board chairman Sir Ron Young said La Roche, now 75, was an untreated offender who had refused to engage with psychologists in prison.

"We last saw him in May 2018, some two years ago. At that stage ... he did not consider he needed any psychological treatment," Young said.

"Today, we were told by the psychologist that he declined to engage in the preparation of the report.


"He claimed that he did not need any psychological help."

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In "extensive" discussions with the board, La Roche confirmed he believed he did not need help.

"Mr La Roche said that he would do psychological counselling if he was ordered to do so," Young said.

"We made it clear that it was not our function to order him to do anything, if he was motivated then it would be provided.

"During the course of the discussion Mr La Roche put a number of roadblocks in place to commence psychological treatment, for example, he said he needed to be convinced that he needed such treatment.

"He said he preferred to have a psychiatric assessment. He asked if we would send him to a secure psychiatric hospital for assessment by a psychiatrist.

"We pointed out that we had a forensic assessment from 2018 which concluded that he did not have any mental illness and therefore did not require any hospitalisation."

Young said the board made "little progress" with La Roche.


"We have attempted to explain the reasons why we would like him to undertake risk-
based rehabilitation," he explained in his decision.

"He equally seems determined not to have such rehabilitation voluntarily."

La Roche made a threat to the board that if he was not granted parole he would take a specific course of action in prison.

The details of that were not included in the report, but Young noted La Roche's Principal Corrections Officer had "picked up on that statement" and would arrange an assessment of the inmate in response.

"Mr La Roche therefore remains an undue risk," Young ruled.

"[He] has not completed any risk-based rehabilitation.

"We will see him again in two years' time in April 2022."