Carole Coade sentenced to life for murdering partner by stabbing him 22 times in bath

The woman who stabbed her partner 22 times in the bathtub has been sentenced to life with a minimum of 11 years behind bars for his murder.

Teacher Carol Ann Coade, 61, was sentenced in the Dunedin High Court on Thursday.

Since the murder, her name was kept a secret along with her occupation and where she worked. 

Coade pleaded guilty to the murder of Dunedin-born filmmaker Mark Henry Willis, 58, in August 2023.

The couple had met six years before the murder on an online dating site and had been living in Dunedin together for more than a year.

According to the summary of facts, Coade's mental health began deteriorating at the start of 2023 and she later went on sick leave from her job.

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said Coade told a psychiatrist after the murder that she had thoughts about killing Willis in the days before the killing. 

Smith also said in the lead-up to the murder there were at least three instances or "attempts" where she tried to kill Willis including approaching him with a knife before deciding it "was crazy". Another time she approached him with a knife and thought he might "overpower her".

"She had the appreciation to realise what she was doing was morally wrong, clearly unlawful and that she needed to look at a different avenue," Smith said.

On the night of the murder, Willis arrived home at 4:30pm and 30 minutes later went to have a bath. 

Smith said it was Coade who suggested he have a bath and made him a coffee filled with crushed medication to try and poison him so he would drown. However, her attempt to poison him failed as he discarded the coffee and instead, she checked he was in the bath before grabbing a knife with a 10cm blade.

Coad went into the bathroom and stabbed him 22 times. She slashed at his body a further six times, causing superficial wounds.

An autopsy revealed Willis' stab wounds ranged from 11mm to 110mm deep. One of the wounds severed an artery in his upper torso area, which was the most life-threatening injury. Four others damaged his lungs and one his liver.

Smith said Coade kept attacking Willis until he went under the water, ensuring he was dead.

Willis died at the scene due to blood loss.

At 5:15pm Coade sent a Facebook message to her children saying, "I love you guys. I'm sorry for what I've done". She then transferred $45,000 from her bank account into the account of one of her children and called emergency services.

Emergency services arrived at the property in the Dunedin suburb of Tainui at 5:27pm and arrested Coade.

She was wearing a blood-stained top and had several superficial cuts on her hands and fingers.

Justice Lisa Preston said at sentencing the key issue to decide was the effect of her mental impairment on the murder.

A psychiatrist who assessed Coade after the murder concluded she was not insane, but was suffering from a severely depressive episode.

Justice Lisa Preston.
Justice Lisa Preston. Photo credit: Newshub.

Defence lawyer Sarah Saunderson-Warner said her client was a loving mother of three and Willis was a kindhearted partner who was never abusive towards Coade.

She said Coade's depressive episode with psychotic and delusional beliefs led her to believe killing Willis would put an end to her mental health woes.

"In conclusion, what you have before you is a tragedy for everyone involved. A man who lived and supported Miss Coade has tragically lost his life," Saunderson-Warner said.

"The homicide has occurred in the manifestation of a delusional solution. In an effort to rid herself of that intolerable and existential terror the homicide became a tragic solution and in her mind at that time was the only viable way to ensure her survival."

However, the Crown said the murder was objectively brutal and the victim was vulnerable at the time.

"Coade took advantage of that vulnerability," Smith said.

The Crown also rejected the defence's claim that Coade was having an "uncontrollable psychotic episode". Smith said there was a level of premeditation in the murder and pointed to the fact that the attack continued despite the victim's pleas to stop.

He said the defendant had the lucidity of thought to contact her children and apologise, as well as transfer a large sum of money.

"Many people who commit murders and are suffering from mental illness are sentenced to life in prison," Smith said.

Coade's mental impairment meant the court found a 17-year minimum period of imprisonment would be unjust, therefore, the Crown sought life with a minimum of 12-13 years.

Ultimately, Justice Preston decided on a minimum period of 11 years imprisonment as the attack reached a degree of savage violence and involved a breach of trust with her partner.

"In my view, this was a brutal, frenzied attack," she said.

Justice Preston sentenced Coade to life imprisonment, with a minimum period of 11 years. She rejected the order sought by the Crown to ban Coade from owning a firearm for life.

Family describe 'endless suffering' after murder

Two of Willis' siblings gave written victim impact statements that were read out by the Crown at the start of sentencing.

Eion Willis said feelings of shock and disbelief at the murder was an understatement.

"I asked myself how could this happen to such a placid, caring and compassionate person. I now understand the circumstances of Mark's death. The cruelly calculated act with what I consider a high degree of pre-meditation," he said.

Eion said his brother was guilty of two things: loving Coade and trusting her.

"There are no winners here, only losers. Our family were devastated, and I would venture to say the family of the accused would be distraught as well," he said.

"The brother I finally got to know was taken away. Our future bonding stopped in its tracks."

Willis' sister Deborah Willis said she still feels as numb as the day she was told about his brother's murder.

"I think about Mark every day, I feel sad all the time. The person I used to be has faded away," she said.

"I honestly believe there is no limit to the endless suffering that we feel. The grief that the whole family carry with them and the thoughts of the inhumane way that he was killed."