Grace Millane murder trial: Live updates as defence opens case, calls witnesses

Warning: This article contains graphic content that may disturb some readers

The defence in the trial of the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane is opening its case at the Auckland High Court.

More than 30 Crown witnesses gave evidence over the last two weeks at the Auckland High Court and it's now the defence's opportunity to present its case to the jury.

Little is known of the defence team's plan, but there have been early signs that a pathologist will give evidence sometime this week. The defence - led by lawyer Ian Brookie - is expected to announce on Tuesday whether the accused will enter the witness box.

The Crown alleges the British backpacker was murdered by the accused - who has name suppression - between the night of December 1 and morning of December 2, 2018. 

Last week, Dr Simon Stables - a pathologist who inspected Millane's body after it was found on December 9 last year in the Waitakere Ranges - told the court that the cause of death was sustained pressure to the neck.

The defence says Millane's death was an accident during consensual rough sex.

More coverage of the trial can be found here.

These live updates are now over.

4:25pm - Court proceedings have now finished for the day. The Defence has indicated it will finish its case on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday's hearing will begin at 9am, rather than the usual 10am start.

4:08pm - Dr Garavan is now being re-examined by Defence lawyer Ian Brookie.

He says there is often disagreement between experts in regard to a precise time frame for death to occur.

He has mentioned it could be between five minutes and 10 minutes of sustained pressure but says it could be between one-and-a-half minutes and six minutes, as another expert has suggested.

The pathologist says he can't say what the minimum amount of time would be.

3:55pm - In regard to the bruises the pathologist earlier suggested could have been from restraints, Dr Garavan says he can’t say whether this was from consensual or non-consensual restraint. 

Dr Stables said last week some bruises on the mid-arm may have been caused by fingers, but Dr Garavan says that isn’t the conclusion he would have come to. 

He tells the court they were likely caused by some sort of restraint or compression.

He says it makes sense that if someone’s arms had been restrained, there wouldn’t be defensive injuries on the neck from the person trying to claw away at someone else’s hands.

3:50pm - Dr Garavan confirms in suggesting alcohol contributed to causing death, he had to rely on information provided to him and doesn’t know the exact amount of alcohol consumed by Millane.

3:40pm - Asked about the alcohol consumed by Millane, Dr Garavan confirms he doesn’t know for sure how much she drank on the December 1 Tinder date. 

The pair shared jugs of sangria and cocktails.

Dickey suggests one could look at a person’s mobility to determine whether they are overly intoxicated. Dr Garavan agrees.

The pathologist says from the last drink, the blood-alcohol level will rise for about an hour and then plateau for a period of time before dropping.


Grace Millane murder trial: Live updates as defence opens case, calls witnesses
Photo credit: Grace Millane and the accused on their date.

3:15pm - The pathologist tells the court that it is uncommon to see death from mechanical asphyxiation during sex. He has not come across such a case in his experience, but is aware that it has been reported.

3:03pm - Dr Garavan says deep muscle injuries aren't necessary for manual strangulation to have occurred.

Dickey asks if no deep muscle bruising may occur if the person being strangled had their arms pinned down and were controlled by the oppressor. Dr Garavan says that is a "fair comment". No defensive injuries may be found if the person was pinned down.

2:59pm - Under cross-examination by prosecutor Brian Dickey, Dr Garavan says pressure would need to be applied for a significant amount of time before a person's face goes red and then a haemorrhage occurs.

A blood nose could eventually occur, but Dr Garavan has never seen that happen. At some point, the individual would also become unconscious.

He again says this would take minutes, rather than seconds.

2:49pm - After a short break, Dr Garavan tells the court that it would have likely taken minutes of strangulation for Millane to have gone into a "terminal tailspin", as Brookie puts it.

2:28pm - Dr Garavan has summarised his thoughts on the cause of death by saying the primary cause was "mechanical asphyxia" with alcohol potentially being a secondary contributing factor.

He says he has come to this conclusion by considering the absence of injuries to the deep muscle structure and the presence of a high amount of alcohol.

"[There is] no evidence of force, no evidence of resistance on the part of the young lady."

2:12pm - Brookie highlights the amount of alcohol Millane and the accused consumed on their Tinder date before the British backpacker's death. The jury has previously heard that during post-mortem, Millane's blood-alcohol was 106mg, but that it may have been different at time of death.

Dr Garavan believes it would have likely been higher and that alcohol may have been a "secondary factor" in the cause of death. He says, if there is a high alcohol content present in the blood, it's like an "iceberg" making its way into a "shipping lane".

2:05pm - The pathologist says if a non-consensual action or attack happened, the resulting struggle would be a dynamic action that would likely result in a deep muscle haemorrhage - there was no evidence of this with Millane's neck, however.

There were also no abrasions to the skin of Millane's neck that would suggest she clawed at her neck defensively.

1:44pm - Defence lawyer Ian Brookie is going over some of the bruises found on Millane's body. Marks on Millane's upper chest could be consistent with love bites or force during consensual sex, the pathologist says. Dr Garavan says force during consensual sex could also result in a bruise on her shoulder. Bruises on her upper arm could be from a restraint during consensual sex.

Dr Stables said the cause of death was pressure to the neck. Dr Garavan says its only semantics but he would say it was "mechanical asphyxia".

1:29pm - Dr Garavan says he agrees with pathologist Dr Simon Stables - who gave evidence last week - that the evidence could be consistent with a scenario where death resulted accidentally from an individual putting their hands around someone else's neck during consensual sex.

1:21pm - Dr Fintan Garavan, a forensic pathologist who worked for several years in New Zealand and now resides in the United States, has been sworn in a witness. He reviewed the pathology evidence for the defence, but notes he also often works for Crown prosecutors.

12:09pm - Court has been adjourned until 1pm.

12:04pm - Statements from two detective constables have been read out. They discuss two dating applications - FetLife and Whiplr - that police believe Millane used. A Whiplr account police believe belonged to Millane was accessed at the Base backpackers on December 1.

11:55am - A friend of Millane's says in a statement that they regularly talked about Millane's sexual encounters. The woman - whose name is suppressed - says Millane would only sometimes discuss rough sex and only mentioned Bumble and Tinder to her.

11:50am - A statement from a former partner of Millane's is being read out. In it, the man - who has name suppression - says the pair practiced BDSM. They researched how to do this safely, with tap-out practices in place.

He says she wouldn't do choking with anyone off dating applications as she didn't trust them enough.

11:40am - Justice Simon Moore is clarifying to the jury that murder isn't confined just to someone intentionally killing someone or causing their death. It can also refer to reckless actions that cause bodily injury or death.

11:03am - Mansfield highlights some of the witnesses the jury will hear from this week. The witnesses will include people who have experience with rough sex and a pathologist who will say what the accused claims happened is consistent with evidence.

The accused's "blame-worthiness" is what is on trial, Mansfield says. Millane won't be blamed in any way.

He wants the jury to put aside what others - like those on social media - believe happened and focus only on the evidence presented.

After reiterating that the evidence is consistent with the way the accused claims Millane died, Mansfield finishes his address.

The court is taking a short break.

10:55am - The jury is told that the evidence they will hear about Millane's sexual preferences isn't meant to lower her reputation.

"No one is trying to shame Ms Millane or her family, and no one is trying to blame Ms Millane or her family, and I am certainly not suggesting that she is not normal," he says.

He says the preferences of both people in the CityLife hotel room must be examined, not just the accused.

10:49am - The actions of the accused after Millane's death may appear "reprehensible", but Mansfield suggests "it tells you very little about what was happening at the time [Millane] died and what was intended at that time".

If the accused was claiming he wasn't involved in the death, the post-death conduct may be relevant, but Mansfield says the accused admits Millane died in his company.

The lawyer says his actions to "cover-up" what happened shows how fearful he was no one would believe that the woman's death was an accident.

"People do things when they are stressed, when they are panicked," Mansfield says.

The lawyer says what the accused said occured in the CityLife hotel may rarely happen, but it is possible "in a consensual sexual relationship between two partners". He says it can happen between a couple who is intoxicated and relatively inexperienced.

10:36am - The defence lawyer tells the jury the Crown alleges Millane's death was the "result of some assault for which we have absolutely no motive". He also discusses other evidence from the previous weeks and argues that there was no "environmental" or medical evidence that establishes a "violent assault" occurred in the CityLife hotel room.

On "fabrications" the accused may have made in conversations with other women, Mansfield says in an "Instagram age", people try to portray themselves in the best possible light.

10:26am - Mansfield says with sex, there is no normal. He says "within the confines of consent", people should be free to be who they are. Witnesses who gave evidence last week highlighted diverse sexual preferences in our community, Mansfield tells the jury.

10:19am - Defence lawyer Ron Mansfield has begun his opening address to the jury. He says they shouldn't be worried about what is normal, but only what is unlawful. Mansfield says the jury's view of what is the political, social or moral norm shouldn't distract them from determining whether there "has been a criminal wrong".

10:13am - The defence has announced the accused will not enter the witness box, but multiple witnesses will be called in his defence.

9:48am - The public is waiting outside the courtroom for the proceedings to begin at 10am. Currently, lawyers and the media are preparing for the day inside room number 11 at the Auckland High Court.

9:30am - A large crowd is gathering for Tuesday's hearing, which will begin at 10am. The court was closed to the public on Friday while legal arguments were heard by Justice Simon Moore. No proceedings were held on Monday.

Defence lawyers Ian Brookie and Ron Mansfield arrive at court.
Defence lawyers Ian Brookie and Ron Mansfield arrive at court. Photo credit: Getty.