Grace Millane jury returns verdict
A JURY in New Zealand has reached a verdict in the trial of the man charged with murdering British backpacker Grace Millane.
The 22-year-old woman died last December on her birthday after meeting a man through the dating app Tinder.
They went back to his hotel apartment in central Auckland.
Prosecutors told the court the 27-year-old man, who can't be named for legal reasons, strangled Grace to death and then stuffed her body into a suitcase, burying her in a shallow grave.
The jury had been asked to decide whether the backpacker was indeed murdered or had died accidentally after a sex game went wrong, as the defence argued.
The man's lawyers argued the pair engaged in consensual erotic choking that went too far.
After a three-week trial, the judge on Friday summed up the case and turned it over to the jury.
Late this afternoon, following a few hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously declared the man guilty.
Ms Millane's parents were in the courtroom, the NZ Herald reports, and embraced as they heard the verdict, with her mother Gillian weeping.
The man is due to be sentenced on February 21.
Before deliberations began, Justice Simon Moore said the Crown portrayed the accused as a "dominating sexual man who toyed with the safety of women".
But the defence said that he made a mistake - further exacerbated by his lies to police - and was not a cold killer.
Justice Moore said if the jury believed Grace consented to the accused applying force to her neck, they must acquit the accused on both murder and manslaughter.
"It is a defence of (the accused) honestly believed Miss Millane consented to him putting pressure on her neck …. It does not matter if it was mistaken or unreasonable," Justice Moore said.
Justice Moore said Grace and the accused started drinking soon after they met at SkyCity and drank continuously for about four hours - mixing cocktails, beer, tequila and sangria.
The Crown said women who gave evidence about their sexual encounters with the accused proved that he participated violent sexual activity without consent.
That spoke to his murderous intent, the Crown said, but the defence challenged the evidence of those women.
They said one embellished her experience because she was embarrassed about pursuing a relationship with the accused.
In a statement of agreed facts, the court was also told of some material which had been extracted from Grace's laptop by a computer forensic expert.
Three chats were recovered from the BDSM online app Whiplr, which Millane was a member of. The messages from the chats, which totalled 412 in August and September 2017, were between Grace and two unidentified men.
Some of the messages appeared to propose a casual sexual encounter, the court heard.
There is no evidence Grace met with the second man, however there is evidence she met with the first male on September 2.
Grace, who said she was new to the practice at the time, also talked of role-play and discussed her desire to be fully restrained and blindfolded.
The messages were some of 72,000 individual messages found on Grace's computer, the court heard.