20-year minimum for Vanessa Pickering's killer

17:00, Apr 18 2011
Malcolm Chaston
LIFE SENTENCE: Malcolm Chaston, 41, is sentenced yesterday in the High Court in Rangiora for the murder of Vanessa Pickering, 27, in February last year.

One of New Zealand's most dangerous criminals has been jailed indefinitely for the brutal murder of a young mother.

In the High Court in Rangiora yesterday, 41-year-old Malcolm George Chaston, a criminal with a history of violence spanning two decades, received a 20-year non-parole sentence for murdering Christchurch mother-of-one Vanessa Pickering, 27.

Justice French also sentenced Chaston to preventive detention with a minimum nine-year non-parole period on two unrelated charges of a sexual nature.

MURDERED: Vanessa Pickering.

The judge noted Chaston had 71 previous convictions, including violent assaults.

Pickering's family yesterday brought her ashes, resting in a wooden box, to court.

A balding, bearded Chaston was accompanied by three prison guards.


As members of the Pickering family read their victim impact statements, he placed his head between his knees and closed his eyes.

For Pickering's mother, Rachel Kitson, it was too much.

While reading her victim impact statement – the first of eight read to the court – Kitson broke down in tears.

"You have no idea how your `bad day' on February 8, 2010, has affected Vanessa's family. Through your cold, calculating actions, our world has turned," she told the court.

"You meant nothing to Vanessa. Why, oh why, your prolonged premeditated attack?

"You could have stopped after inflicting that first cut, but you chose not to.

"Vanessa wasn't an animal, but you, Chaston, are. Her murder should never have happened."

The court also heard that Chaston had assaulted another woman on the same day, before returning to his home and grabbing a 15-centimetre serrated-blade knife he used to kill Pickering.

He went to Pickering's home, and drove her to the Godley Head road, where he had attacked the other woman earlier.

Chaston stabbed Pickering in the face, neck, chest, abdomen and on both hands.

The attack was so fierce, the knife handle broke.

Days later, after being caught by police, Chaston brought them to Pickering's body.

He told officers, "she's dead" and "I stabbed her in the eye 'cos she was staring at me", a police summary said.Pickering's younger sister, Loana Pickering, also read a victim impact statement, saying Chaston had "torn my heart apart", before also breaking down.

In a statement read to the court, Pickering's brother, Herb Linton Pickering, said: "What a waste of an innocent life that has been taken by a cold-blooded murderer. I am so angry and so upset by what has been done."

Last night after the sentencing, Pickering's father, Robert Pickering, said he hoped Chaston never got out of prison.

He said the sentence was "not enough, but it's about the best you could hope for".

He did not attend yesterday's sentencing as he did not want to "give him [Chaston] the time of day".

Pickering said he no longer had his daughter, but "he's [Chaston] still breathing".

The judge said pre-sentence reports showed Chaston had an extensive criminal career that had escalated with age. The case for preventive detention was "strong" and "clear-cut", she said.

Chaston submitted a letter to the court through his lawyer, Craig Ruane, only moments before sentencing.

It was not read out but the judge said it was the only expression of remorse that Chaston had ever made. It would be passed on to Pickering's family.

As Chaston was taken from the dock, a person in the gallery shouted "utu" [revenge].

Last night, family spokeswoman Robyn Hanson said: "We're absolutely thrilled [with the sentence]. I'm so impressed with the judge and how she handled it."

'I hope Malcolm never gets to see the sun again'

A young woman who was attacked by Malcolm Chaston on the same day he killed a Christchurch mother told a court she hoped he "never gets to see the sun again".

Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway told the court that on February 8 last year – on the same day and at the same location as the murder – Chaston attacked an 18-year-old woman in a van.

In a victim-impact statement, the woman said she met Chaston through a course that both were attending and thought he was a "nice friendly guy".

Since the attack, she had suffered nightmares, needed counselling and been terrified to leave her house.

Stanaway said Chaston asked the woman for sex but she refused, prompting a violent attack.

The victim said her hair still fell out because it had been pulled so hard by Chaston.

After a struggle, the woman managed to force him out of the van.

Chaston apologised, begging her not to tell the police.

"During the attack, I fought really hard, but also tried to say the right things so that he wouldn't kill me," the woman said.

"I can clearly remember the way his eyes looked at me, like he wanted to kill me.

"It seemed like I was having nightmares every night forever.

"I have become a very anxious person.

"For about the first month ... I wouldn't go anywhere. I sat at home with all the windows and doors locked.

"I wouldn't even leave my house. I thought that everyone was looking at me and I didn't know why.

"I have struggled with my confidence ever since."

She had become more suspicious of people since the attack.

"I feel I always tend to put a wall up and I am quite guarded with people I don't know really well," she said.

The woman said she would try to live her own life, but "I hope Malcolm never gets to see the sun again".

Justice French said that during the struggle, Chaston attempted to punch the woman in the face and "generally manhandled her", hurting her right shoulder, left thigh and shin.

"Eventually you [Chaston] desisted and drove her part of the way home and made her walk the rest," the judge said.

Chaston then went to his home, where he picked up the knife he used to stab Pickering several times.

The judge said Chaston had unsuccessfully applied to have his guilty plea for the assault withdrawn.

The Press