Grace Millane murder trial week two: Tinder matches, police interviews, 'post-death' activity

Tinder matches, police officers and a pathologist gave evidence in the second week of the trial of the man accused of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane.

Crown prosecutors - who finished arguing their case on Thursday - called numerous witnesses to speak about their interactions with the 27-year-old man in the months leading up to his arrest.

He was charged on December 8 last year with killing the young Brit between the night of December 1 and the morning of December 2. The Crown alleges that in the CityLife hotel, after the pair went on a date, the man murdered Millane via sustained pressure to her neck. 

However, the Defence says Millane's death was an accident after consensual rough sex gone wrong. The jury heard the accused's version of events through two filmed police interviews.

Millane's parents, David and Gillian, continued to sit in the front row of the public gallery, which was overflowing with people each day of the week. On some days, people sat on the floor and stood around the main doors to watch the proceedings.

More coverage of the trial can be found here.

Monday

Three women - all of whom have their names suppressed - entered the witness box on Monday. Each had matched with the accused on the dating application Tinder and each recounted their interactions with the man.

The first described a sexual encounter in November 2018 involving choking - something she encouraged. Prior to their meeting at the CityLife hotel, she sent him messages about her preference for rough sex - something she said her was interested in. The witness didn't describe the sex as violent and told the court that no marks were left on her neck afterwards.

The next woman - who never met the accused in person - matched with the man in February last year. She recalled the accused liking "dominating and strangulation" as it made him feel "superior" and in control. Defence lawyer Ron Mansfield said no messages between the pair revealed any discussion of strangulation, but she was adamant it came up - possibly in a short phone call.

The last witness began giving evidence at around midday on Monday and would be cross-examined into the afternoon and on Tuesday morning.

She alleged that in the CityLife hotel on November 2 last year, after oral sex with the accused, the man - who she called a "sociopath" - suffocated her with his body weight, causing her to struggle to breathe. 

Mansfield later asked if it was possible that she began to lose the ability to breathe during an awkward sexual angle and the accused didn't realise. She said he definitely knew.

"He would have seen me kicking… he was looking forward to my feet, he would have seen my struggling."

Ron Mansfield.
Ron Mansfield. Photo credit: Getty.

When he got off her, the woman told the court he coldly said to her: "You don't think I did that on purpose?" Under cross-examination, she also admitted telling police he was crying at this point and she said he wasn't a "horrible person".

She later left the hotel room after the accused claimed to be in pain, which he attributed to cancer.

Her communication with the accused was the main focus of cross-examination by Mansfield. 

Mansfield asked why over 700 messages between the pair in the weeks after the encounter did she never raise her allegations or cut the conversation off. The lawyer said some of the messages implied she wanted to continue seeing him, despite her saying she was scared of him after his alleged actions.

"I was afraid he was going to show up in my life... blocking his call won't make him forget all the things I told him," the woman replied on one occasion.

Mansfield suggested the woman dramatised her encounter with the accused as she was embarrassed she wanted to see someone now charged with murder. She told the court that wasn't true and asked why she would open her life up to everyone in court if she didn't have to.

Tuesday

After the previous woman gave evidence, pathologist Dr Simon Stables - who inspected Millane's body after it was discovered in a suitcase at the bottom of a hole in the Waitakere Ranges - told the court the body was found intact.

Several bruises were discovered on Millane's body - which he was confident pre-dated her death. No apparent wounds or injuries that would result in the blood found in the CityLife room were detected by the pathologist. However, he confirmed blood can leak from the nose after death.

A significant 6cm x 3cm bruise was found on Millane's neck that Dr Stables said was likely due to pressure to the neck which wouldn't have been "gentle". He said this was significant to the cause of death.

Dr Simon Stables.
Dr Simon Stables. Photo credit: Newshub.

The pathologist also confirmed to the court that he had never come across a case in New Zealand of someone dying by manual strangulation during sex with someone else. Even in medical literature, it is rarely written about. However, he said this could have happened. 

Dr Stables also told the court that if Millane's respiratory systems were affected by a high level of intoxication, the woman would have been unconscious.

Several police officers involved in the Millane investigation gave evidence on Tuesday afternoon. They confirmed the accused told police on December 6 that he had parted ways with Millane at about 8pm on December 1. This was contradicted by CCTV footage.

Wednesday

On Tuesday afternoon, the court was shown the start of a filmed police interview between Detective Ewen Settle and the accused on December 6.

In the video, he tells Det Settle after having several drinks with Millane on December 1, they parted ways on Victoria St West and walked onto opposite sides of Queen St. The accused then went to drink at a pub. 

His recollection after this was limited, but when the video continued to play on Wednesday, the jury heard the man saying he remembered waking up on December 2 at about 9am or 10am. 

Det Settle told the accused there was a concern by police that Millane may have been murdered. Afterwards, while the accused was waiting for paperwork to be brought to him, he asked an officer: "Am I being arrested for something I didn't do?"

He hadn't been arrested at that stage.

The man is then confronted with an image showing him in a CityLife elevator with a suitcase at 8:14am on December 2. He eventually admits that he went to The Warehouse that morning to buy the suitcase. 

December 6 interview.
December 6 interview. Photo credit: Supplied.

Following the police interview, Detective Adam Bicknell entered the witness box. He previously gave evidence about CCTV footage of Millane and the accused on their date and spoke on Wednesday about footage of the accused's actions after the alleged killing.

The footage revealed to the jury the accused purchasing a suitcase and cleaning products as well as hiring a car on December 2. Late that evening, the man wheeled a baggage trolley to his car. On it, were two suitcases and a sports bag, which he put in the vehicle. One held Millane's body inside.

On December 3, the man drove to Kumeu to get a shovel and, later, he had clothes washed at a dry cleaners. On December 5, he deposited items from a bag into a rubbish bin at Albert Park.

The accused after buying a shovel.
The accused after buying a shovel. Photo credit: Supplied.

The footage shown to the jury was only a highlights compilation and not a full record of the man's actions.

One "highlight" was the man at a Ponsonby bar on December 2, where he met a woman for a drink. She gave evidence on Thursday and told the court the accused mentioned a man being convicted of manslaughter after rough sex went wrong. He also told her that bodies had been going missing in the Waitakere Ranges.

A taxi driver, a Countdown employee and a drycleaners worker all spoke to the court, recounting their interactions with the accused after the alleged killing.

The man at a drycleaners.
The man at a drycleaners. Photo credit: Supplied.

Thursday

An employee at the Kumeu ITM the accused visited on December 3 to purchase a red shovel described the man as a "nice person to talk to". A woman who worked a chemist also gave evidence.

The filmed police interview the man participated in on December 8 was shown to the court with the guidance of Det Settle. In it, the accused admitted to going back to the CityLife hotel with Millane.

He then claimed the pair had rough sex in the hotel room. After sex, he went to the bathroom and passed out. He woke a while later and walked to his bed in the dark, thinking Millane had left the room. When he woke in the morning, he found her on the floor bleeding from the nose.

"I screamed, I yelled out at her. I tried to move her to see if she was awake."

December 8 interview.
December 8 interview. Photo credit: Supplied.

The accused admitted to disposing of her body in the Waitakere Ranges and contemplating taking his own life. He explained that he never rang an ambulance as he was "scared how bad it looked".

Shortly after explaining his story, Det Settle arrested the man for Millane's murder. The accused said in the video he has gave his version of events as he wanted her family to have closure. He cooperated with Det Settle and helped police find her body. 

A doctor who examined the accused later that night told the court the man was also cooperative when inspected.

The man in charge of the entire Millane investigation, Detective Inspector Scott Beard, gave evidence, telling the court that Millane's cellphone was never retrieved.

Scott Beard.
Scott Beard. Photo credit: Getty.

The final Crown witness also spoke to the court. Dr Clare Healy, a specialist in strangulation, discussed the anatomy of the neck and how strangulation can lead to death.

Finally, the Crown read out an agreed statement of facts, including that no one heard any disturbance in the CityLife hotel room on the night Millane was allegedly murdered.

With that, the Crown's case wrapped up.

Next week

The Defence is expected to begin its case on Monday. No proceedings will take place on Friday.

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