Dunedin cricket bat killing: Brutal murder of friend brings life in prison

A life sentence for the man who beat her brother to death with a cricket bat will never heal his family’s wounds, his sister says.

The murder of 45-year-old Brent Andrew Bacon on February 4, 2019, represented John Kenneth Collins’ second strike under the three-strikes legislation (his first came for indecent assault in 2016).

But Justice Jan-Marie Doogue, in the High Court at Dunedin yesterday, ruled a whole-of-life term would be grossly disproportionate.

The 39-year-old was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

Justice Doogue said the murder was “brutal” and the decision to dispose of the body on a back road represented a “continuing course of callous conduct”.

In March, a jury took less than an hour to return a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, after Collins had pleaded guilty to unlawfully taking the victim’s vehicle and interfering with human remains.

The judge said Collins “stole the rest of [Bacon’s] life from him” and betrayed the victim’s family, who had tried to support the defendant and his wife.

Bacon’s sister — his only sibling — Lia Bezett spoke of the pain of her loss.

“I’m tormented daily by what you did; the terror and pain Brent would’ve experienced at your hands,” she said.

“[Collins’] callous, brutal actions tore my family and world apart.”

Bezett described her brother as an “understanding father, supportive brother, hard worker, loyal friend [and] rough-housing uncle”.

Bacon’s upbeat attitude was both a blessing and a curse.

“He saw the best in everyone and disregarded their shadows and their past,” she said.

“He cared about you. You were his friend and he stood by you when you were down. You failed him, you failed your children, his children, your family, our family and our community.”

Speaking outside the court following the sentencing, she said it would never heal the family’s wounds nor would it stop such senseless crimes happening in future.

“While we as a family certainly feel better with him being locked away, this sentence does not address the insidious and catastrophic impact that drug abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse and trauma is having on our families, community and society as a whole,” she said.

Those who would be most tragically affected by Collins’ crime would be eight children — Bacon’s three and his killer’s five, Bezett said.

The defendant and his 32-year-old wife, Aleisha Dawson, who admitted being an accessory to the murder, moved to a state-housing unit in Lock St, St Clair in November 2018 and soon reconnected with the victim, having spent time with him while they lived in Christchurch.

Within a few months, however, there was a falling-out.

Collins, who opted to give evidence, claimed the victim had become paranoid about someone following him over a drug debt and then Bacon attacked him wielding a pair of scissors.

But his story was systematically broken down in cross-examination and the jury clearly rejected the claims of self-defence.

While the defendant said he hit the victim a maximum of four times, Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said the unprovoked beating was probably much more extensive, the evidence indicating a “persistent and determined assault”.

Pathologist Dr Charles Glenn found a large portion of the victim’s skull was missing during an autopsy and said it would have required “tremendous force” to cause the damage, similar to that seen in plane crashes and gunshot deaths.

Defence counsel Len Andersen QC said his client “clearly lost control” but he argued no premeditation was involved.

“It’s something he really can’t explain,” he said.

After killing Bacon, Collins and Dawson bundled his body into a sleeping bag, loaded it into the dead man’s Toyota people mover and quickly fled north.

They dumped the body under a low-hanging tree beside a gravel road, 35km away, where it was found two weeks later by a cyclist.

The couple were eventually arrested in Rotorua and interviewed.

Throughout that process, Collins was “detached and alarmingly cool” about what he had done, Smith said.

Dawson was jailed for two years three months and is eligible for parole this month.

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