When the lid was opened on Nicola Fleming's coffin, all her father could see were the black and blue bruises through her makeup.
It's an image that will stay with him for life. Kerry Fleming says not one part of his daughter's face was without a mark.
He spent yesterday morning in the Invercargill courthouse, watching as the man who beat his daughter to death in February last year was sentenced for her murder.
He read his victim-impact statement, his voice catching as he struggled tp speak, the words a harrowing account of the night he learned of Nicola's death.
"My baby is dead in a box in Matamata. That's where my baby is, and you put her there."
The man responsible, David Jackson Mahia, was sentenced by Justice Mander to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 12 and a half years for the murder, and a concurrent sentence of eight years for sexual violation.
Mahia, 31, appeared impassive throughout the hour-long sentencing. Nicola's family sobbed in the public gallery.
Kerry told the court that losing his daughter had been soul-destroying. The 38-year-old was a bright, friendly, helpful and musical woman who never held a grudge.
The night he learned of her death was still clear in his mind. The police arrived at his home, asking if he was Nicola's father and if he knew Mahia. He didn't.
The rest of that night was a blur as he struggled to comprehend what had happened.
Family members sobbed in court as he described seeing his child's lifeless, black-and-blue face in her coffin.
Brendan Fleming said his sister was "his everything", and had taught him poetry, music, faith, love and how to think outside the square.
Her death had destroyed his family, he said.
"I blame this man for killing my sister. He knew what he was doing and he made the choice to do it. My sister didn't deserve what he inflicted on her, no-one does, and now he has to face the consequences.
"All this guy had to do was keep his hands to himself."
His sister would want him to forgive Mahia and he would try, Brendan said.
"My family will conquer and we refuse to be victims."
Defence lawyer Robert Lithgow, QC, said that when Mahia – who had suffered from substance addictions since the age of 12 – realised Nicola was dead he was distraught but took responsibility, which at the time was all he could do.
Mahia accepted the crime was unforgettable and unforgivable but was determined to learn how to be a decent person, Lithgow said.
Mander described Mahia's offending as brutal, cruel, depraved, callous and cowardly.
No sentence would begin to address the loss caused, he said.
"It is clear that for this family to lose Nicola to such senseless violence has left them bewildered."
Mahia and Nicola had been in a volatile, on-off relationship.
After being told Nicola was in a relationship with someone else, Mahia arranged to meet her outside her accommodation in Tyne St, where he seized her by the hair and pulled her down the steps and into a car park before pushing her into the Otepuni Creek, punching her and kicking her again, and carrying her back to her accommodation, where he left her on the floor in a blanket.
Later that morning, Mahia returned and found the victim dead in her room, Mander said.
Mahia handed himself in to police, telling them he intended to give her a "hiding" but had not meant to kill her, Mander said.
An autopsy revealed she died from blunt trauma inflicted to her head and body.
"Her death resulted from an intensive and sustained manual attack, which went beyond what you were able to describe in your own account to police."
After the sentencing, Detective Sergeant Stu Harvey, of Invercargill, said Nicola's family and police urged people in a violent relationship to seek help.
There was plenty of support available including Women's Refuge, police and health organisations, Harvey said.
The family and police also urged offenders to seek help for their violence.
"If people have concerns they need to come forward."
Harvey said the murder was "the worst-case scenario of domestic violence".
It was a tragedy but also an "all-too-common occurrence", Harvey said.
Often, domestic violence homicides were the result of a buildup of violence and there were usually warning signs.
It was important those warning signs were picked up, he said.
NICOLA FLEMING'S FAMILY STATEMENT
'We accept the outcome of today's sentencing hearing. However, as a family, we continue to struggle with the violent and senseless manner of Nicky's death.
Nicola's death has affected our entire family. She will be truly missed because she was truly loved.
We want to express our thanks to Detective Sergeant Stu Harvey, Constable Simon Kairau, the Maori Health Services (Te Huinga Tahi) and Invercargill Victim Support for all the support shown to our family.'
WHEN IT'S TIME TO LEAVE
"You don't deserve to be hit."
This is one of the most important messages for women in relationships where family violence occurs, a lecturer in community psychology says.
Neville Roberson, University of Waikato senior lecturer in community psychology, said family violence also included threats, intimidation and mind games.
One of the main drivers of violence towards women was men's sense of entitlement.
Most men did not particularly enjoy using violence but would resort to it to defend their perceived entitlements, he said.
If it was unsafe to disagree with your partner it was an unhealthy relationship, he said.
He urged women to speak with someone they trusted if they were uncomfortable about how their partner was treating them.
Invercargill Women's Refuge co-ordinator Cathy Robertson said if a woman started to feel unsafe, it was time to move on.
Family violence co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Ian McCambridge said Invercargill police received more than 25 reported cases of family violence a week on average.
The police were being called more for minor incidents, which could indicate people were more confident in reporting, he said.
Difficulties for people to report included fear of consequences of reporting, what family and friends may think, children, finances and housing issues, McCambridge said.
"It amazes me how many people live unhappy lives when they don't need to."
If you need help, phone:
Invercargill Women's Refuge 0800 REFUGE (733843)
Invercargill police (03) 2110400
National emergency number 111
- The Southland Times
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