For 12 years, Gary Donald Mills has been in jail for the murder of his partner after a court found that he had poured petrol on her and set her alight. The entire time, he's professed his innocence. His attempt for freedom has just suffered a setback but he's now revealing he will continue to fight to clear his name. Kelly Makiha reports.
Karen Lambert used to have nightmares about the night she found her neighbour's badly burned body in the driveway of her home.
Skin was peeling off her and the smell of burning flesh, smoke and petrol still haunts Lambert to this day.
Her neighbour, Lyn Delzoppo, died a month later in Waikato Hospital.
Her partner, Gary Donald Mills, has spent the past 12 years in jail serving a prison sentence for her murder and the arson of their Taui St home in Ngongotaha on May 1, 2008.
As Delzoppo lay in a foetal position trying to cool her burning legs on the cold grass, she told Lambert over and over it was Mills who did it to her.
Those were the only words she was able to say as her condition deteriorated.
Lambert was a key Crown witness in the 2009 trial and still lives at the home that neighbours the fateful house.
This week it was revealed Mills had failed in a bid to get medical records and police photos he intended to use in his appeal to the Supreme Court to get his convictions overturned.
His lawyer, Anselm Williams from Christchurch, has told the Rotorua Daily Post that, despite the setback, Mills will continue with his plea to the Supreme Court by seeking leave to appeal his conviction.
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"Mr Mills continues to maintain his innocence. He maintains, and always has, that the fire that resulted in Ms Delzoppo's death was not set by him," Williams said.
The Rotorua Daily Post reported in 2009 that Mills professed his innocence to Delzoppo's family even as Justice Graham Lang handed down his 17 year minimum non-parole jail sentence. Just as he was being led away to the cells, he turned to Delzoppo's family sitting in the public gallery and said "I'm sorry, I'm sorry but I didn't do it".
But as far as Lambert is concerned, Mills should accept his fate as everyone involved has had to move on.
As a victim of domestic violence from a previous relationship years ago, Lambert said the horrible ordeal brought back memories for her and she suffered nightmares for at least a year after the fire.
"I had been in a violent relationship years before and it brought back a lot of issues for me. That was hard."
Lambert said she was a lot better now and had tried to put it behind her.
"I wish he would wake up and admit to his wrongs. I guess that's not going to happen but I think the sooner he can the better."
Learning that Mills is still trying to appeal his case has come as a huge shock to Delzoppo's sister, former Rotorua woman Annie Wright.
Wright said she lit her sister's candle on Wednesday this week, not long before news of Mill's Supreme Court dismissal broke.
"'It's a nightmare and you live it every day. You feel it every day. I still have the same picture of her sitting in my kitchen. I think of her every day and I even lit her candle ... so isn't that weird."
She said dealing with her horrific death was hard enough, but the fact Mills continued to deny it made it even harder.
"I accept it and it's horrible but now to read what he is trying to do, that is the shocking part."
She said she had no idea why Mills continued to deny it but she wished he would stop.
"It was horrible to see her in that hospital bed in that state. You learn to live with it but you never get over it."