For smashing Marcus Luke Tucker to death with a metal steering lock and then burning his body, Peter John Carroll will serve at least 17 years of a life imprisonment term.
The family of the murder victim burst into applause as the sentence was imposed.
The murder in Christchurch’s meth-fuelled drug scene shocked for its casual cruelty and callousness, after 36-year-old Tucker’s bashed, bound, and burnt body was found beside Drain Road, near Lake Ellesmere, in April last year.
Carroll, 53, denied the murder charge saying he had not intended to kill, but the jury convicted him of murder a month ago at the end of a nine-day trial before Justice Nicholas Davidson in the High Court at Christchurch.
The Tucker family today read emotional and moving victim impact statements recalling the disbelief and grief of hearing about the murder, telling Carroll he had inflicted anguish and suffering on Marcus Tucker and the whole family.
They spoke of their grief at seeing the “battered, bruised, broken, murdered and burnt body” of the father-of-three.
Tucker’s mother told of the memory that haunted her, of only being allowed to see half of his face and his burnt hand, after his body was found.
The trial heard talk of a drug robbery in which a suspect had the same nickname as Marcus Tucker – “Ruckus” – and the Crown alleged it was a case of mistaken identity when retribution was meted out.
The defence said Carroll had intended to teach Tucker a lesson for paying for methamphetamine purchases with photocopied $100 banknotes. Carroll claimed that $1500 in crude counterfeit notes had been used by Tucker for a purchase through a third party a few days before.
Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes said it had been a vicious and serious assault, concentrated on the back of his head, premeditated, and entirely one-sided. Carroll displayed callousness in dealing with the body, delivering it as a “prize” to the drug dealer who had been robbed, and then setting the body alight.
He called for a non-parole term of 17 years under the Sentencing Act because of the brutality of the attack and the high level of callousness involved in the murder and the disposal of the body.
Defence counsel Tim Fournier submitted that medical evidence indicated injuries had been inflicted with only moderate force. He said the callousness had to apply to the murder itself, rather than the disposal of the body.
He submitted that the jury had found Carroll guilty because of the “recklessness” of his attack. Carroll’s comments indicated he was “conflicted” by what had unintentionally happened during the assault. He said the non-parole term ought to be 12 to 13 years.
Justice Davidson acknowledged the grief expressed in the Tucker family’s victim impact statements, and the profound effect of the murder on their lives. He expressed the sympathy of the court and the community.
He said the family had no illusions about Tucker’s lifestyle and associations, but they expected that he would “pull himself together at some stage”.
He noted Carroll had previous convictions in Australia and New Zealand for drugs and dishonesty. He was an able and intelligent man who worked as a builder.
“Yet you lived in a world where the use of methamphetamine and cannabis influenced your everyday life and this other world is why you you are here being sentenced today,” said the judge.
He beat Tucker while he was heard begging for his life. The calculated and determined assault was premeditated, using a heavy weapon. He accepted the submission that Carroll may not have intended to kill Tucker, but did intend to hurt him badly.
He believed that callousness could be reflected in what happened before and after the murder itself – such as the burning of the body.
Justice Davidson noted that Carroll had indicated he wanted to apologise to the Tucker family but did not expect to have that opportunity.
He told the probation officer at the pre-sentence interview that he recognised that the use of violence was inevitable in a culture of drug use. A high level of violence was regarded as normal. Carroll had sold drugs for a living for most of his life and at the time of the murder, he was using methamphetamine, cannabis, and synthetic cannabis.
Justice Davidson said he believed the ruthless, brutal, and unpitying assault was probably related to mistaken retribution for the earlier drug robbery. It was a cold-blooded and cowardly attack, carried out calmly and efficiently.
He believed the murder warranted a 17-year non-parole term, which he imposed.