SYDNEY (Reuters) - A jury in New Zealand on Friday convicted a 27-year-old man of murdering a British woman backpacker, a case that shocked the country and raised questions about its reputation as a safe, easy-going holiday destination.
Grace Millane, 22, went missing in Auckland on Dec. 1 last year, while traveling after finishing university. Police found her body on Dec. 9 in bushland just a few meters from a scenic drive in the Waitakere Ranges.
The man, whose name has been suppressed by the court, met Millane on the evening of Dec. 1 through dating app Tinder, the jury heard. He pleaded not guilty to murder, arguing that she died accidentally during consensual sex.
The jury rejected the argument, convicting him just hours after beginning deliberations. The man is due to be sentenced on Feb. 21 and faces life in prison for murder.
The man’s lawyer, Ian Brookie, could not be reached for comment.
Millane’s parents, David and Gillian, were present throughout the trial.
“Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever,” her father told reporters outside the court.
“It will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure,” he said of the verdict.
“Grace was taken in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart.”
The judge thanked the jurors for their service in what he called a particularly difficult case.
Prosecutors had told the jury the convicted man took several photos of Millane’s body on Dec. 2. Later that day, he placed the body in a suitcase and drove in a rental car to where he buried her.
The case stirred public debate about violence toward woman in a country where serious crime was once considered rare.
Thousands of people held candlelight vigils after Millane’s death in an outpouring of grief, with Prime Minister Jacinda Arden holding back tears in an apology to Millane’s family on behalf of the country.
Reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez
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