A 27-year-old man accused of the murder of Lincoln graduate backpacker Grace Millane has pleaded not guilty after a five-week trial formally began at Auckland’s High Court on Monday.
As previously reported, Millane, 22, went missing during a trip to New Zealand on December 1, sparking a worldwide search. She vanished the day before her 22nd birthday and was last seen alive on CCTV entering the downtown CityLife Hotel, allegedly with the accused on December 1.
Her body was later found on December 9 by local police in a forested area on the outskirts of Auckland.
A murder investigation was launched and police arrested a 27-year-old man, who was later charged with murder and pleaded not guilty.
According to reports, including in the New Zealand Herald, the defendant appeared in court in a navy suit and black shirt on Monday and reaffirmed his not guilty plea.
He cannot be named for legal reasons.
Opening statements were read out in the High Court at the start of the trial.
Justice Simon Moore also spoke briefly to the jury (of five men and seven women) before dismissing them until Wednesday, when the Crown will open its case, starting with the evidence-presentation phrase of the trial.
Parents David and Gillian Millane made the 12,000 mile journey from their home in Essex to Auckland to attend the trial, where the post-mortem examination results are reportedly expected to be heard for the first time.
Grace’s father previously issued an emotional statement thanking the people of New Zealand for “their outpouring of love”, adding that his daughter “will forever be a Kiwi”.
A plethora of tributes poured in after her death from family and friends, and others affected by it.
A close friend and fellow University of Lincoln Hockey player said Grace Millane “gave everyone around her the strength and courage to chase their ambition” in a heartfelt tribute.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand previously issued an apology to Grace’s family during the police investigation.