Supreme Court hears test case for murder sentences less than life imprisonment

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Kaine Van Hemert in the dock at Christchurch High Court when he was convicted of the Bella Te Pania murder.  (File photo)

Chris Skelton / Stuff

Kaine Van Hemert in the dock at Christchurch High Court when he was convicted of the Bella Te Pania murder. (File photo)

If Kaine Van Hemert had been hospitalized for his mental health and under surveillance, he would not have committed a fatal and brutal attack on a sex worker, the Supreme Court has said.

His legal team argues that he should receive a lesser sentence than the normal life sentence imposed for murder, which could impact future cases.

Van Hemert killed Bella Te Pania, a 34-year-old sex worker, in the early morning hours of December 31, 2019 after suffering a psychotic breakdown a few hours earlier.

Van Hemert was initially sentenced to a limited sentence of 10 years imprisonment, with a minimum period of six years and eight months. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and sent the case back to the High Court for a further indication of a fit sentence. A life sentence with a minimum of 11.5 years was eventually handed down.

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His attorney James Rapley, KC, is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn the new sentence and revert to the original one.

At the time, Van Hemert was 42 years old and had already been treated three times for psychiatric problems.

Van Hemert suffers from bipolar affective disorder, aggravated by his use of alcohol and illicit drugs.

In December 2019, he became upset when he found out his former partner had a new relationship.

He started using alcohol and cannabis and five days later the health authorities were called.

Van Hemert also called 111 to request a time machine, so he could travel back in time to kill his already dead father. He was found at home, banging his head against a wall and speaking in riddles. A doctor and nurse treated him and assessed him as severely psychotic with delusions, impaired perception and paranoia. He spoke incoherently as if responding to voices. They decided to commit him to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

However, he was allowed to sleep at home one more night. He woke up, felt freaked out, took all of his meds at once, and went to find a sex worker to “level the playing field” against his ex-partner.

Bella Te Pania who was found with multiple stab wounds, including serious throat injuries.

Provided

Bella Te Pania who was found with multiple stab wounds, including serious throat injuries.

He met Bella Te Pania, 34, who was later found seriously injured on Orchard Rd in Christchurch at around 6.50am on December 31, 2019.

A review by the Canterbury District Health Board has since revealed that proper procedures were not followed the night the delirious and paranoid Van Hemert carried out the murder ‘out of rage’.

Rapley said the Court of Appeal erred in finding the appellant had a history of assault as an aggravating factor.

Submissions from the Criminal Bar Association said the Court of Appeals erred in treating Van Hemert’s alcohol and drug use as separate from his mental illness, while the Defense Lawyers Association argued that he was wrong to consider alcohol and drug use by anyone in Van. Hemert’s position as qualifying as voluntary.

Crown attorney Mark Lillico said it was not unfair to impose life imprisonment on Van Hemert.

He said his mental health did not have a strong link – or a strong enough link – to the offence.

The Supreme Court reserved its decision.

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