Justice for victim 24 years on

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2012

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New Zealander Grant Mitchell was today sent to jail for 14 years for murdering his Auckland-born girlfriend in Sydney almost 24 years ago.

Mitchell, 62, had pleaded guilty in March in the New South Wales Supreme Court to murdering Nella Poli, 19, in her home in Sydney's inner west in May 1987.

Today he was given a 14 year sentence and told he could apply for parole after January 8, 2021 - 10 years from the day he handed himself in.

Poli's body was found by a neighbour and her mother after she failed to turn up for work at a Sydney hotel. Police alleged she had been strangled with a piece or rope or cord.

Mitchell, who had shared the house with Poli for about six months, went missing soon after. He turned himself in to Atherton police in north Queensland, in January last year.

It was reported at the time or the killing that a photo of Poli with the head ripped off was found near her body.

The case was featured on TV show Australia's Most Wanted and academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett revealed she moved into Poli's room soon after the murder.

''Australia's Most Wanted had been through before I moved in and done a re-enactment, and there was my room and the bed exactly where it was, and the person climbing through the window to strangle the girl,'' she told Vogue in 2004.

Last year it was reported Mitchell had been living and working on fruit farms in Far North Queensland since leaving Sydney.

He used an alias and stayed under the radar by having no contact with official or government agencies, including Medicare.

In January 2011 he was involved in a collision between his motorised bicycle and a kangaroo.

A 10-day stay in Cairns Base Hospital left him with a bill of $A11,000 ($NZ14,037) he was unable to pay. This prompted his decision to turn himself in.

By surrendering, confessing and pleading guilty Mitchell avoided a term of life imprisonment, a bitter blow for Poli's family and friends even if the proceedings offer an element of closure.

In a heartfelt victim impact statement submitted to Justice Peter Hidden, Poli's mother Caroline McGill explained how she lamented her failure to extricate Nella from a doomed relationship.

Her grief, she wrote, was "compounded by the fact I let others, including Nella, allay my concerns about her murderer.

"The fact she planned to move out of the house on the weekend after her body was discovered haunts me to this day.

"Times does not heal. Nella's death is still horrifying and a part of my life every single day. A casual question from a new friend, like 'How many children do you have?'' causes such pain. Hearing her favourite song on the radio is always distressing."

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Mother's Day is another sombre occasion, Poli was killed the Friday before it fell but had already organised gifts for her grandmother in New Zealand.

"Mother's Day is especially painful for obvious reasons, and also because Nella never had the opportunity to marry, have children and celebrate Mother's Day in her own right,'' McGill wrote.

- Auckland Now

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