Axe-killer's sentence valid

John Frederick Ericson
John Frederick Ericson

A Blenheim man convicted 15 years ago of killing his wife with a tomahawk while she was sleeping will stay in prison, the Appeal Court has determined.

In a decision published yesterday, the court said John Frederick Ericson had appealed against two High Court judges' decision not to grant his applications for habeas corpus, a legal argument which, if granted, would have resulted in his immediate release from prison.

Appeal Court judge Douglas White said Ericson claimed his sentence of life imprisonment for murder imposed on 19 April 2000 resulted from a miscarriage of justice and that there was new evidence relating to his psychiatric state at the time of the murder and the removal of relevant evidence from the crime scene which shows that he was wrongly convicted.

"The short answer to Mr Ericson's appeal is that no proper basis for habeas corpus has been advanced. There is no suggestion that, having been convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, Mr Ericson's detention in prison is unlawful."

The decision said the writ of habeas corpus was to be used only to release someone entirely from unlawful custody.

It was not appropriate for challenging the lawfulness of a conviction or the conditions under which an inmate sentenced to imprisonment was detained.

"Unless and until Mr Ericson's conviction is set aside, it remains valid at law and, where, as here, a sentence of imprisonment has been imposed, the warrant authorising that imprisonment remains in force. The prison manager is not only authorised to detain Mr Ericson for the duration of that sentence he or she is also legally obliged to do so under the Corrections Act 2004."

However, White pointed out that there were other processes available to Ericson to challenge the lawfulness of his murder conviction, including an appeal to the Governor-General for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy.

Ericson is serving a life sentence for murdering his wife Sandra in July 1999 by striking her in the back of the head with a tomahawk 22 times while she slept.

He called police after the attack and admitted killing his wife but later said he had no memory of it.

The Marlborough Express