26 Apr 2018

Man sentenced 17 years for boat attack murder

1:51 pm on 26 April 2018

A Nelson man with a long history of violence has been sentenced to at least 17 years behind bars for the murder of an itinerant man who lived on a boat.

Martin Grant Price is standing trial for murder.

Martin Grant Price is standing trial for murder. Photo: RNZ/ Tracy Neal

Martin Grant Price, who spent time in a detention centre after being deported from Australia in 2004, was found guilty of murder last month.

He hung his head during sentencing in the High Court in Nelson today for the murder in 2016, and then in a sudden outburst swore at the judge and the court as he was being led from the dock.

Price was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for the murder of John Murray Morton.

His lawyer Ron Mansfield maintained the act was a "short and flurried assault" but not a situation where a high level of brutality was found.

Justice Dobson said he could not accept it was anything less than a cruel and violent attack, and that Price stabbed and beat Mr Morton, then left him to die.

The build-up to Mr Morton's death was described at the trial as juvenile schoolyard abuse - a text feud of habitual insults that had escalated into an attack.

Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber told the court the victim met a violent death.

"He used at least a knife and his booted feet.

"The knife was one with a blade that was long enough to penetrate some 15 centimetres deep into Mr Morton's body."

Price had been living at Franklyn Village in Nelson city - a hostel for temporary and long-term residents.

The man who found Mr Morton's body said he discovered him lying in a foetal position in the back corner of a boat.

His was one of a collection of boats moored in the tidal Haven.

"I saw the blood before I reached the boat - when I drove up to it, you could see it - it stood out, the blood stood out, it was everywhere. It was the only boat that was red," the witness said.

Mr Mansfield said today that the evidence showed both men had been bleeding, and the pathology did not determine how the injuries, other than the knife injuries were caused.

"So in my submission this was a reckless killing - he didn't go there with the intention to kill. He went there with the intention to get cannabis, there was a dispute and as a result we know the deceased has sustained a significant injury, but it's hard to know exactly how he sustained those injuries."

Mr Mansfield said it was possible some of the them could have have been caused after any assault or struggle.

Mr Webber said Mr Morton's injuries were far too widespread, serious and numerous to have been caused by a struggle.

"It points to a serious and sustained beating - a beating in which Mr Price was the aggressor and dominant, in which Mr Morton was completely overwhelmed, and was in fact the one trying to defend himself."

Justice Dobson said the ongoing arguments between the men might have been petty and childish but they were bitterly maintained to an extent they could not be "credibly resolved by a cheery wave when you saw him in a passing car".

He said the overall impression from the reconstruction of the attack is that it moved from Mr Morton's boat to other locations in the area, and his death was the result of "savage and prolonged" violence.

"This murder, although not of the highest level of brutality or callousness, was indeed committed with a high level of brutality."

Justice Dobson gave Price a first strike warning, which means if he is convicted of any further serious violence offences other than murder, then a sentence would be served without parole or early release.

The court heard that Mr Price, now 55, will be 72 before he is released from prison.

He shouted from the dock he would be appealing the sentence, before swearing loudly as he was led out of the courtroom.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs