The ex-partner of a Wellington woman who was attacked as she slept has been sentenced to serve at least 17 years of a life imprisonment term for murder.
Ernest Smith had hidden for hours in the ceiling space of the Tawa home that Amanda Taufale, 33 had shared with her two children in November last year.
After she and the children had gone to sleep he lowered himself into the hallway of the house and attacked her.
In the High Court at Wellington today Justice Ron Young said Smith, 39, used a gib knife to stab and slash her at least 17 times before finally dragging the knife across her neck, cutting a major vein and an artery.
In the morning her 15-year-old son found her dead on the floor of her bedroom.
Smith pleaded guilty to murder 11 months after he was charged.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Justice Young said he set the minimum time Smith has to serve before he can be considered for parole at 17 years to take into account factors including the brutality and callousness of the killing, planning that went into the crime, and the fact that Smith had been in the house unlawfully.
Smith was said to have been angry that Ms Taufale wanted to limit the time Smith spent with her and his access to the nine-month-old son they had together. He was allowed to see his son when another family member was present.
He had been asked to return his key to the house but did not.
He had a history of depression.
Ms Taufale met Smith, who is Jamaican, in the Cayman Islands and he came with her to New Zealand.
Smith's lawyer, Barbara Hunt had turned to Ms Taufale's family in the back of the court as she said Smith said he was deeply sorry "a million times" and how he was struggling to come to terms with what he had done.
"He has asked me to say from the bottom of his heart how deeply sorry he is."
Speaking after sentencing, Ms Taufale's uncle, Ralph Jorgensen, said the minimum jail term was appropriate.
The family were shocked at what happened to her and the past year had been very difficult. The family was relieved Smith pleaded guilty.
They could not forget what had happened but the sentencing meant they could try to put "this very dark period" behind them and get their lives back together.
They had had great support from police, victims support, and their friends, he said.
The police officer who had headed the investigation, Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Oxnamrejected a suggestion that elements of Smith's crime had been a "bumbling".
He said it had been very planned.
The court heard Smith had put screws in the ceiling hatch so it could be easily opened from inside the ceiling space, and attached straps to the framing so he could lower himself into the hallway without making a noise.
Smith had tried to make it look as if someone had broken into the house. But as well losing his makeshift hood during the fatal attack on Ms Taufale, he left a bloodied glove at the house. He then lost his car keys and had to go back to her house to take her car.
Mr Oxnam said Ms Taufale had been a wonderful mother and her sons were showing signs of tremendous potential in a number of fields.
"For her to be taken away at this time of life is just absolutely tragic."
Before her death she had been studying for a science degree.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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