Pair jailed for McMurdo murder

MURDERED: Lee McMurdo was found dead in his Woodhill home in 2011.
MURDERED: Lee McMurdo was found dead in his Woodhill home in 2011.

Two men who murdered west Auckland man Lee McMurdo have been jailed for life with 17-year and 13-year non-parole periods.

John Grant Cuthers, 29, and Andrew Parry Nicholson, 25, were convicted of murder in November 2013 after a seven day trial in the High Court at Auckland.

They were sentenced today by Justice Graham Lang to life sentences with a 17-year non-parole period for Nicholson and a 13-year non parole period for Cuthers.

McMurdo was found dead by his 12-year-old daughter at his rural home, 10km south of Helensville on July 29, 2011, but it was believed he died on the morning of July 27 - his daughter's birthday.

The 32-year-old was last seen alive on July 26, 2011, at 1.40pm.

Cuthers and Nicholson pleaded guilty to the other charges arising in the case - of supplying methamphetamine and taking a car - but were found guilty of murder.

McMurdo's father Bruce McMurdo told the court today that the murder was "a parent's worst nightmare".

"How does one live the fact their youngest child has been taken from them in such a horrendous manner? I miss him beyond comprehension."

McMurdo said he had "unusual, horrific dreams" about his son's murder and his wife had become withdrawn.

He worried about his granddaughter who had discovered her father dead.

"We have grave concerns about how that will impact her for the rest of her life."

The thought of the killers playing PlayStation a few hours after the death was also horrific.

"They clearly place no value on life. They didn't have the guts or moral fortitude to admit to their actions"

At the time of his death McMurdo was believed to have been dealing MDVP or "bath salts" - a party drug that has had violent side effects on some users overseas.

Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery said McMurdo was killed after Nicholson and Cuthers visited him on July 26 to supply him some methamphetamine.

McMurdo had begun taking the drug after his business began to struggle and his marriage broke down. On this occasion he couldn't pay for the drugs. Instead, he offered the two men some pills to try.

Nicholson refused, but Cuthers took some of the drugs, the substance known as MDVP, a stimulant with psychoactive properties. The pair then left with another friend.

The Crown said the pair returned later that night to rob McMurdo and that was when he was killed.

Raftery said Nicholson inflicted the violence but that should not "belittle" Cuthers' role as he was running the drug operation.

"It was his (Cuthers') grievance, his motivation to return. Mr Cuthers was the brain, Mr Nicholson was the brawn."

The next the pair were heard from was two days later, when, early on July 28, they turned up at a friend's with a carload of electronics.

The Crown said the property was taken from McMurdo's home when they returned early in the hours of July 27, robbed him and killed him.

After failing to get rid of the stolen goods, the pair travelled north to Nicholson's family property, where they "laid low" for some months, Raftery said.

Meanwhile, back in Auckland, McMurdo's daughter arrived at the home to find her father dead. Despite her distress, she was able to point out that televisions, an X-Box and other goods were missing from McMurdo's home.

Raftery said police had little to go on, but over the course of a year managed to "put the pieces of the jigsaw together" and eventually arrested Nicholson and Cuthers, separately after a 13-month investigation.

During that time Nicholson made several incriminating statements to different people, Raftery said.

Much of the legal argument at sentencing revolved around whether the murder was committed in the commission of another crime - the robbery - which would elevate the prison term to a 17-year-minimum non-parole period.

Justice Lang said Nicholson had told a cousin that he went to McMurdo's house to collect a debt.

The judge said he was satisfied the pair must have known they were going to meet resistance while robbing McMurdo and violence must have been part of their plan.

McMurdo's daughter's birthdays would forever be tinged with sadness as her father was killed on that date, the judge said.

He said he was satisfied the murder was committed in the commission of a robbery which, for Nicholson, engaged the 17-year-minimum dictated by Section 104 of the Sentencing Act.

Justice Lang jailed Nicholson for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. He jailed Cuthers for life with a minimum of 13 years.