30 Jan 2010

Killer who hid bodies under house jailed 23 years

8:54 am on 30 January 2010

A Christchurch man who admitted killing his wife and a neighbour and burying their bodies under his house will spend at least 23 years in prison.

Jason Somerville strangled Tisha Lowry, 28, in September 2008 and killed Rebecca Somerville, 35, in August last year.

At the High Court in Christchurch on Friday, Justice Chisholm sentenced Somerville to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 23 years.

The judge told Somerville that his actions were "bizarre and disgusting" and he had shown no remorse or empathy for his victims.

Somerville's crimes came to light when he reported his wife missing at the end of August 2009.

The 33-year-old eventually admitted to police he had killed both women because they angered him - in his wife's case, when she declined his sexual advances.

It was revealed Somerville also sexually violated the bodies after they were strangled and buried them under the floorboards of his house.

Murders depraved - Crown

Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway on Friday described the murders as depraved.

"For the families of both victims and ... for the community generally, the prisoner's further violations of the victims at or after the time of their death was and is a depraved and sickening act."

Ms Lowry was killed on 25 September 2008, but her body lay hidden in a shallow grave under Somerville's house just a few doors from where she lived until its discovery along with his wife's body nearly a year later.

Mr Stanaway told the court Somerville must have been intently aware of the Lowry family's anguish and says he was interviewed by police during the search for her.

"He maintained an appearance of normality throughout, and were it not for him coming forward later, it's unlikely that there would have been early detection of both homicides."

Somerville's lawyer David Ruth told the court his client had been affected by a difficult childhood, head injuries and sexual abuse as a teenager. However, he did not have an identifiable mental disorder.

Mr Ruth said Somerville always had a worrying tendency to use strangulation as a way of coping with stressful situations.

He told the court Somerville should receive some recognition for his early guilty plea, given that it saved the families the trauma and the public the cost of a trial.

Justice Chisholm noted that the psychologist who examined Somerville said he displayed the beginning of a very serious and disturbing trend and it was highly likely that he would reoffend.

The judge said he could not impose preventive detention as an added protection to the community. However, he said when Somerville comes up for parole he may not be released then, if ever, due to the risk he poses.

Families attend sentencing

In an emotional victim impact statement, Ms Lowry's mother Tanya Lowry said she struggled with the fact that Somerville had degraded her daughter after killing her.

Her brother, Jacob Lowry, described Somerville as scum who did not deserve to be on this earth.

Ms Lowry's sister Leanne Hodder became so upset while reading her statement that her support person had to complete it for her.

Ms Somerville's uncle, Peter Clifford-Marsh, says the family is pleased with the sentence handed down, but he would like to be told when Somerville comes up for parole.

There were four arson attacks on the house in Wainoni Rd, where the bodies were buried, before it was demolished earlier in January.

Mr Clifford-Marsh says a memorial would serve only to commemorate the crime, but the family would consider a children's playground. Christchurch City Council is to consider buying the property.