Alexander Merritt found guilty of murdering Karin Ross
Dunedin cleaner Alexander Merritt has been found guilty of the murder of his supervisor Karin Ross.
A jury in the High Court in Dunedin delivered its verdict on Tuesday, with several people in the dock clapping at the decision.
Merritt gave no emotion.
Ross' partner, Richard Leckie, who was visibly upset after the verdict, said he was pleased with the outcome but it was just the beginning for him and Ross' two children.
At 12.36am on December 2, CCTV captured the last time the 51-year-old was seen alive.
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Ross, holding a bag of rubbish, left Otago Polytechnic bound for Spotless Cleaning Services on Strathallan St.
She was due to go on holiday, but first had to throw the rubbish in the skip and clock-off.
Her bloodied body – which a pathologist said suffered 14 blows to her head and 32 defensive blows to her hands and arms –was found by Merritt's mother, Sharon, about 2am.
She told the court it "looked like a rubbish bag on the ground, and I realised it was Karin".
Unable to get a pulse she called 111, and when advised to roll Ross over she noticed a "big halo" of blood around her head.
Emergency services who attended the scene said they noticed a work van,with its engine still running crashed against a skip, and a bloodied left handed print on its door.
Police soon zeroed in on Alexander Merritt, 21, who had a motive, and scratches to his head, which he said came from scratching himself in his sleep.
Later, DNA evidence and his cellphone records helped confirm police's case that he was the killer.
Two days after her murder, police found a bloodied hoodie, a glove with the letter 'A' embroidered on it, a small 'tack hammer' and a cloth, stashed inside a wheelie bin at his home at Nairn St, Kaikorai.
Blood found on the items came from Ross, but crucially the hoodie showed DNA from Merritt.
His defence counsel, Anne Stevens, argued that was unreliable, with the evidence potentially contaminated by other discarded items.
She argued Ross' blood, found at the Nairn St home and in a vehicle, came from Sharon Merritt after she tried to help Ross at the scene.
Stevens said police fingered Merritt for the crime because he was an "easy target".
The police video interview with Merritt showed a young man who gave simple and literal answers to questions, and who did not hide his dislike for Ross, Stevens said.
However, that did not make him a murderer, and the case was "literally a whodunit", she said.
Crown prosecutor Robin Bates said Merritt was the killer, with his DNA found under Ross' fingernails.
"They were consistent with a violent and angry attack that Karin Ross suffered on that same night."
He argued Merritt had a motive to kill Ross, was angry over facing the sack, and knew of her movements.
Weeks before Ross' death, Merritt told fellow Spotless cleaner Aiden Kelsall that he would "like to burn her family in front of her".
When told he was overreacting, Merritt replied Ross would "deserve it".
He also described Ross as a "lazy b....".
On the day of Ross' murder, Merritt told Kelsall: "I don't care, you know how I felt about her."
Merritt, when questioned by a detective, said he did not like Ross and did not care she was dead because she talked down to him.
The Crown's case was that Ross tried to "fight and flee" from Merritt, who attacked her after she put rubbish in the skip.
As she fled to her van, she was attacked again by the hammer-wielding Merritt, who pulled her out of the van, and she died just metres from the still-running vehicle.
A bloodied glove print was left on the driver's door, with blood found inside and under the van.
Pathologist Martin Sage said Ross suffered major internal head injuries, resulting in internal bleeding, a rapid collapse and her sudden death.
Police collected over 700 pages of evidence for the trial, which ran over two weeks.
Justice Nicholas Davidson remanded Merritt in custody for sentencing on December 13.