The family of murdered Australian surfer Sean McKinnon will be spared a trial after New Zealand man who killed him pleaded guilty to murder.
On Wednesday, the High Court in Hamilton heard Mark Garson, accused of killing Mr McKinnon during his sleep in August 2019, change his earlier plea and admitted the crime.
The New Zealand Herald reported that Mr McKinnon’s family, including his Canadian fiancee Bianca Buckley, watched the hearing on videolink.
The plea reversal means Garson, who has been detained since the killing, will not go to trial in November. Instead he will be sentenced for murder and threatening to murder December 9.
Mr McKinnon and Ms Buckley were sleeping in a campervan parked at Te Toto Gorge, near the surfy, tourist town of Raglan when Mr Garson fired several shots at their van at 2am on August 16, 2019.
Ms Buckley escaped, fleeing through the bush and seeking refuge in a farmhouse, where she alerted authorities to her partner’s death.
Garson was apprehended on the outskirts of Hamilton – 80 kilometres away – later that day. He had driven the campervan for some time before abandoning it with Mr McKinnon’s body inside.
Garson was seen by the court twice in 2019 as unfit to enter a plea on mental health grounds, before pleading not guilty in December.
Earlier in 2020, New Zealand man Roderick Finlayson was given six months community detention for supplying Garson with the weapon he used to kill Mr McKinnon.
At that sentencing, Ms Buckley said she feared going out at night, suffered anxiety, and couldn’t work for months after the shooting.
The midwife has also cancelled her plans to settle and raise a family in Australia, without her future husband. She has moved back to Canada.
“I am essentially starting my life from scratch again, all the while grieving my soulmate, having flashbacks of that night and waiting for a slow justice process that will see me in and out of court, at least until the end of this year,” she said, according to the Herald.
Mr McKinnon, 33, was farewelled in Warnambool 2019, near his hometown of Narrinda.