Murder – minor provocation – life imprisonment with minimum non-parole period
R v Tinei  NZHC 1869 per Downs J.
The defendant, Poi Tinei, had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with the victim, Teao Wiki, for around three years. They had been apart for approximately two weeks before the offending.
On 17 September 2022, Tinei poured petrol over the victim, a nearby mattress and around the bedroom. He then set the petrol alight. His brother heard thumping and slapping, followed by screaming for help. Tinei then left the scene with no attempt to help the victim or check that other members of the family were not in danger.
When emergency services arrived, Tinei was asked whether anyone was inside the building. He gave inconsistent answers to some of the questions and ignored others. The victim’s body was found inside the home later that day. A post-mortem showed she was assaulted before being set on fire. The defendant also suffered some burns to his feet, legs, back and neck.
Police spoke to the defendant at the hospital and he said he believed everyone had left the house.
The issue dealt with by the court was the contested minimum period of imprisonment (MPI). The Crown contended the MPI should be no less than 19 and a half years due to the high level of brutality, cruelty, depravity and/or callousness specified under s 104(e) of the Sentencing Act 2002.
Downs J found four aspects that made the defendant’s actions more serious: he abused the victim’s trust; his history of threatening and harming the victim; he was on bail for other offences; and he was subject to a protection order in relation to the victim at the time of her murder.
The judge did not consider the murder pre-meditated but neither was it out-of-the-blue, especially in relation to the threats to burn down her home and set her car on fire.
Applicable principles: murder – sentencing – minimum period of imprisonment – whether imposing MPI is manifestly unjust – whether murder was committed with a “high level of brutality, cruelty, depravity, or callousness” – aggravating factors – mitigating factors – personal circumstances – guilty plea discount.
Held: Tinei sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum period of 18 years.
An MPI that exceeded the statutory minimum of 17 years was justified as Tinei’s offending was appreciably more serious. The victim was conscious when set alight, Tinei used fire an instrument of control, and there was a deliberate risk of a very serious blaze to the home and others’ lives.