Sat, Mar 10, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Norfolk Island killer convicted

GUILTY KIWI Prosecutors had charged that New Zealander Glenn McNeill abducted Janelle Patton and 'violently assaulted' her, saying her injuries showed she struggled

AFP , NORFOLK ISLAND

A New Zealander was convicted yesterday of the first murder in 150 years on the tiny South Pacific paradise of Norfolk Island, relieving local people who had been under a cloud of suspicion.

Around 100 islanders outside the court clapped and cheered as a jury agreed that Glenn McNeill, 29, had murdered Australian Janelle Patton and dumped her stabbed and battered body at a picnic spot on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2002.

The conviction of an outsider came as a relief to the 1,300 closely-knit permanent residents of the island, who had fallen under suspicion after the brutal killing.

Most are descendants of the British sailors who staged the famous mutiny on the Bounty, and their Tahitian wives, who settled on the abandoned former British penal colony in 1856.

"That dark cloud that has been hanging over the island has lifted," said Tom Lloyd, who published the local newspaper for 40 years.

The reaction by members of the public, who were viewing the trial on a video link in a marquee outside the overcrowded courtroom, would be echoed across the island, he said.

Laurie Quintal, a former boyfriend of 29-year-old Patton and who had come under suspicion, said there would be "big celebrations tonight, everybody on Norfolk."

Patton "didn't deserve none of this," he told reporters. "The island didn't deserve none of this."

McNeill, a fresh-faced father of two, showed no reaction as the verdict was handed down in front of members of his and Patton's families.

Chief Justice Mark Weinberg said McNeill would be sentenced at a later date. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

During a month-long trial, the jury of seven men and four women heard that McNeill, who had been working as a chef on the island, confessed to killing Patton after his arrest in his home country last year.

The jurors watched an interview videotaped by police in which he said he accidentally knocked Patton down with his car on a road, panicked and stabbed her to make sure she was dead.

But in a statement to the court, McNeill denied having anything to do with Patton's death, saying he had been mentally stressed at the time of his arrest and had told the police "complete rubbish."

Prosecutors charged that McNeill abducted Patton and then"violently assaulted" her, saying her top, shorts and underpants had been cut, revealing her breasts and pubic area, and that her injuries showed she struggled to defend herself.

Patton, like McNeill, was one of several hundred outsiders working on the pretty island, where tourism is the main source of income. She worked as a restaurant manager.

The discovery of her battered body shocked residents of the self-governing Australian territory, which lies some 1,500km from the capital Canberra.

Capital punishment is outlawed on the island, and McNeill will likely serve his sentence in Australia as the former penal colony now has no prison.

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