Teenagers who killed 90-year-old Grace Virtue sentenced to prison, home detention

By Charlotte Cook for RNZ

The family of a 90-year-old Levin woman who died after three teenagers beat and robbed her say their mother's kindness cost her life.

The three girls now aged 15 and 16 pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Grace Virtue and were given their punishment in the High Court in Palmerston North on Friday.

The eldest will serve two years and six months in prison, while the other two were given a year of home detention.

Justice Helen Cull said longer sentences would be more damaging, given their ages.

"This offending is a tragedy for all concerned.

"It was a senseless and reckless crime and it has changed the lives of everyone.

"You now have a chance to make something of your lives with the supports in place to rectify the wrongs of your past and set on a path of education, reintegration and rehabilitation."

In November 2019 the three had hatched a plan to invade the woman's home, knowing she was elderly and lived alone.

Justice Cull said two of the girls had walked the streets of Levin looking at properties before settling on Virtue's as the prime target.

At the door of the house, the eldest of the group pretended she needed to use the bathroom, where a hesitant Virtue let her in.

Once inside the girl punched Virtue in the face, knocking her to the ground.

While on the ground unconscious from a head knock, the teenager then kicked the 90-year-old before grabbing her handbag and camera and taking off.

A second 15-year-old was also inside the house and watched the assault while the youngest of the group waited outside.

Virtue died of a brain injury 25 days after the attack.

The Virtue family said the three teenagers were to blame for the death of their mother.

The 90-year-old's son, Michael Virtue said the trio had cheated his mother of her final wishes and left them feeling empty and numb.

Grace Virtue died of a brain injury 25 days after the attack.
Grace Virtue died of a brain injury 25 days after the attack. Photo credit: RNZ

But Virtue said he was proud of his mother for never saying a word of hatred about the girls.

"With the exception of her feeling a little silly, stupid and gullible for letting one of the girls come into the house to use the bathroom.

"She should never have felt stupid or gullible, she was being kind and thoughtful.

"Her kindness cost her her life."

He described her as a woman who was frugal and always careful with money.

"She scrimped and saved to enable her to have a better retirement that would afford her a few pleasures.

"To make matters worse, they took whatever cash or Eftpos card they could obtain from her, and spent her savings aimlessly.

The teenagers bought tickets to go to a party with their friends, clothes, lollies and tobacco.

Michael Virtue said his mother agonised over spending money on things she really needed.

"Very few treats were ever bought in her groceries, and if she did buy a treat it would have been mint chocolate biscuits and she would make them last for days, looking forward to her mint treat with a cuppa tea on an evening.

"All she went through, and all the penny pinching and doing without was for what?

"I wish she'd spend the lot so she could enjoy it."

The three girls, who all had different involvement in the crime were sentenced separately but any identifying features and their personal health details are suppressed permanently.

The girl, who physically attacked Virtue was sentenced to two years and six months prison time in a youth justice facility.

She had described her behaviour to Virtue as "disgusting and heinous".

Justice Cull said although the other two girls were not part of the violent offending they were an integral part of the planning and premeditated attack.

The lawyer for the youngest of the group said before arriving at the house she withdrew from the plan and sat across the road.

However, Justice Cull said she had still enjoyed the spoils of the crime.

Both remaining girls were sentenced to 12 months home detention.

Virtue was a nurse who was brought up during the depression and World War II.

She had known suffering, losing two children at birth, another son and her husband.

Her other son Gavin Virtue said she worked hard all her life caring for others.

During the trial he said he'd looked to the teens to see if there as any sign of remorse.

He said, he saw nothing.

"It seems that the consequences of killing my mum are just an inconvenience for you.

"This will impact your lives forever.

"It was a cold-hearted, evil act that you carried out. You thought of [nothing] but your own pathetic social lives."

The teenagers had acknowledged their offending and the impact and hurt it had caused.

The lawyer for the 15-year-old who was given a prison sentence said she realised she had a price to pay, and what's more, that she deserved to pay that price.

"I'm disgusted at myself. We took their mother away from people, for $30 and some alcohol - it was so f**king stupid."

Another girl had gone through the restorative justice process and apologised to the Virtue family.

Justice Cull said a longer sentence would be "crushing" for the defendants and would not help reduce their chances of reoffending.

The Virtue family said they had been dealing with the stress and hurt of this offending for over a year and the pain did not have an end date.