Headless skeleton case: Man jailed for manslaughter
An Auckland man who killed his friend and then maintained an elaborate ruse that he was alive has been jailed.
James Cooper, 25, appeared in the High Court in Auckland where he was jailed for eight years and three months.
Justice Christopher Allan sentenced him to four years and three months jail for manslaughter and four years for perverting the course of justice.
In August, Cooper was found guilty of the manslaughter of his friend, Javed Mills, after a jury trial.
He was originally charged and tried for murder, but was found not guilty on that charge.
He pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice in relation to his efforts to make Mills' family believe he was still alive before his trial.
In a victim impact statement read to the court this morning by a victim support aide, Mills' brother, Tareq Rahman, said images of the barbaric and callous way in which his brother was treated haunted him every day.
"I feel guilty that I wasn't able to be there for Javed in his time of need," he said in the statement.
Mills' mother, Lichelle Mills, said the eight months in which the family waited for his remains to be returned were agony.
"We have been forced to live a nightmare of diabolical proportions," she said.
The five-week trial before Justice Allan was told Mills' headless skeleton had been found in a Mt Wellington garage in September 2011. Mills had been killed in July 2009.
The Crown said it was a deliberate murder, but Cooper maintained Mills dropped dead during a fight.
The fatal altercation took place in an "oversized doll house" called "the den" - a place where the pair would smoke pot and listen to heavy metal music.
Cooper wrapped Mills' body in a blanket and "stuffed him under the den" where he left him for two days.
He then dug a grave half a metre deep and buried Mills, where he remained for 12 months.
Cooper later started to "freak out" about the body being buried right outside the den and exhumed the remains before moving them to an abandoned house.
He smashed the skull and hid the other bones of the skeleton.
In an effort to conceal the death, Cooper set up a fake Bebo account and pretended to be Mills.
He also withdrew his friend's weekly Work and Income benefit and used his eftpos card regularly.
Summing up the defence case, lawyer Mina Wharepouri said Cooper's "after-the-fact conduct" did not help in the murder trial as it did not say anything about any murderous intent at the time of Mills' death.
Forensic pathologists were unable to say how Mills died, Wharepouri said.
Cooper admitted in a three-hour police interview on June 5, 2012, to covering up the death for three years. He blurted out in a police car "it was an accident".
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