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Double murderer gets sentence reduced on appeal

28 Jul 2023

| Author: Hannah Hellyer

Criminal procedure – appeal against sentence – double murder – minimum period of imprisonment –Sentencing Act 2002, s 104(b), (e) and (h) – planned and premeditated – brutal, callous and cruel – youth, absence of previous convictions, early guilty plea – troubled background and life experience, mental health, agitated and distressed state – no discernable psychiatric disorder – sentencing methodology, ss 103 and 104 – extent of discount for guilty plea and other mitigating factors 

Frost v R [2023] NZCA 294 per Cooper P, Goddard and Clifford JJ.


Growing up, Nathan Frost had a loving relationship with his mother, but little, if any, contact with his father, Stephen Frost.

After his mother died in 2016, 16-year-old Nathan and his brother went to live with their father, his then partner and their two children, Regan Frost-Lawn and H. By January 2021, Nathan Frost’s brother had moved out and Stephen Frost and his partner had separated. Nathan was now living with his father and his two half- siblings. He was unemployed, drinking heavily and did not have good relationships with his father, Regan Frost-Lawn and H.

Nathan Frost reported contemplating killing them and had obtained the weapons he intended to use – a large pipe wrench and a hunting knife. By the early hours of 18 January 2021, Nathan Frost had consumed close to a bottle of Jack Daniels. Stephen Frost, hearing Nathan crying in his bedroom, came to his door and tried to enter. Nathan Frost then attacked his father with the pipe wrench, striking him multiple times on the head and jaw, and knocking him unconscious.

Frost continued to beat his father with the pipe wrench, then stabbed him multiple times with the hunting knife. Stephen Frost died at the scene. Regan Frost-Lawn heard the commotion. On seeing what was happening, he tried to warn H, who was in a sleep-out outside.

Nathan Frost followed Regan into his bedroom and stabbed him numerous times with the hunting knife, puncturing his lungs and causing massive internal bleeding and deep lacerations to his head and face.

Nathan Frost then stabbed Regan Frost-Lawn four more times in the neck. Frost-Lawn died at the scene. In the meantime, H had left the sleep-out and was hiding nearby. She called the police.

Nathan Frost acknowledged to the police that he had killed two people but declined to make any formal statement. After receiving psychiatric reports indicating his fitness to plead and the inapplicability of the defence of insanity, Nathan Frost pleaded guilty to murdering Stephen Frost and Regan Frost-Lawn. In the High Court at New Plymouth, Ellis J sentenced him to life imprisonment, with a minimum period of imprisonment (MPI) of 20 years. Frost appealed.

Applicable principles: whether MPI starting point of 23 years too high – whether Ellis J’s reference to the possibility that Nathan Frost was fortunate not to be facing a charge of murdering H was an error, being a reference to an irrelevant consideration, calling for an adjustment to the MPI – whether there should be a change to the approach to determining guilty plea discounts for MPIs in murder sentencings – whether sufficient discounts for guilty pleas and personal factors applied.

Held: Appeal allowed. Order to serve minimum period of imprisonment of 20 years set aside. Substituted with order to serve minimum period of imprisonment of 18 years.


Hannah Hellyer is an Auckland criminal defence barrister and a member of the ADLS Criminal Law committee and Parole Law committee.

Frost v R [2023] NZCA 294.

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