The killer of Sean McKinnon has been sentenced to a non-parole period of 15 years for the Victorian surfer’s callous and cowardly murder, which was re-lived in court by his Canadian fiancée.
WARNING: This story contains graphic content that some readers may find upsetting.
In the Hamilton High Court on Wednesday, Bianca Buckley cried as she mourned her lost lover, killed in an unprovoked attack.
“We were two of a kind. We made a love story together,” Ms Buckley said.
“And he had so much life left to live.”
The couple were camping in August 2019 near the New Zealand surf town of Raglan, when meth-addled Hamilton man Mark Garson confronted them, breaking a window and demanding the keys.
Mr McKinnon was shot in the liver and head, pleading with the 24-year-old while searching for the keys.
“He asked ‘how could we help you’ non-threateningly … he tried to offer you a solution,” Ms Buckley said, turning to the murderer.
“You said ‘I’ve got a gun, give me the f–ing keys to your car’.
“You shot him. I heard him moan … I watched his life leave his form.”
Garson abused Ms Buckley, who was naked, saying “yeah b–ch, he’s dead” but promised not to kill her if she gave over the keys.
“I asked for one moment to say goodbye,” she said.
“You were so cruel. You took away the chance for me to hold his body’s warmth for the last time … it was a true horror story.”
Between gunshots, the Crown prosecutor said the wounded Mr McKinnon crouched over his wife-to-be to protect her.
Ms Buckley fled, terrified, with trees and shrubs cutting her body as she ran 2.6 kilometres through bushland and along roads in the dark before reaching a property and alerting the police.
Garson, who drove the campervan carrying Mr McKinnon’s body before abandoning it in a nearby town, was apprehended after a police manhunt around 24 hours later.
Members of Mr McKinnon’s family also gave impact statements, both in Hamilton and via a videolink to a family home in Birregurra, south-west of Melbourne.
Sister Emmeline McKinnon said on her first trip to New Zealand after the murder, she saw shattered glass from his campervan in the car park where he was killed.
“I have barely held my life together since,” she said.
“Fear has stayed with me. I only expect bad news. I am waiting for what came to my brother to come to me and my children.”
In court, Garson sat uncomfortably as he listened to Mr McKinnon’s family, wiping his eyes several times as Ms Buckley addressed him.
Crown solicitor Jacinda Hamilton said Garson was under the influence of methamphetamine during the “depraved” and “inexplicably violent” murder.
Acting for Garson, lawyer Charles Bean said “nothing could diminish the genuine tragedy” but his client had a low IQ, began drug use at the age of 12 and suffered from depression.
The 24-year-old also had 21 previous convictions, with many for theft, and was in possession of the loaded firearm as he hoped a friend would kill him in an arranged tryst on the night of the murder.
Garson changed his plea to guilty in October this year, one month from a proposed trial.
Justice Christine Gordon gave Garson life imprisonment for murder and threatening to kill, with a non-parole period set at 17 years.
Justice Gordon discounted 18 months from his non-parole term for his guilty plea and personal circumstances, arriving at the minimum imprisonment of 15 years and six months.