The family of murdered Australian surfer Sean McKinnon will be spared a trial after the New Zealand man who killed him pleaded guilty to murder.
On Wednesday, the high court in Hamilton heard Mark Garson, accused of killing McKinnon during his sleep last August, had changed his earlier plea and admitted the crime.
McKinnon’s family, including his Canadian fiancee Bianca Buckley, watched the hearing on videolink, the New Zealand Herald reported.
The plea reversal means Garson, who has been detained since the killing, will not go to trial next month, and will instead be sentenced for murder and threatening to murder on 9 December.
McKinnon and Buckley were sleeping in a campervan parked at Te Toto Gorge, near the tourist town of Raglan, last August when Garson fired several shots at the van.
Buckley escaped, fleeing through the bush and seeking refuge in a farmhouse, where she alerted authorities to her partner’s death.
Garson was apprehended on the outskirts of Hamilton later that day, having driven the campervan for some time before abandoning it.
The court ruled twice last year he was unfit to enter a plea on mental health grounds, before he pleaded not guilty in December.
Earlier this year, New Zealand man Roderick Finlayson was given six months community detention for supplying Garson with the weapon he used to kill McKinnon.
At that sentencing, Buckley said she now feared going out at night, suffered anxiety, and couldn’t work for months after the shooting.
Buckly, a midwife, has also cancelled her plans to settle and raise a family in Australia without her future husband, and has instead moved back to Canada.
“I am essentially starting my life from scratch again, all the while grieving my soulmate, having flashbacks of that night and waiting for a slow justice process that will see me in and out of court, at least until the end of this year,” she said, according to the Herald report.
McKinnon, 33, was farewelled in Warnambool last year, near his hometown of Narrinda.