Mur­der end of drink­ing mates’ row

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - HAMISH MCNEILLY

Sharon Comer­ford was blud­geoned with a blunt in­stru­ment a dozen times be­fore be­ing left for dead.

Her killer, Stephen Findlay, ad­mit­ted the March 7, 2016, mur­der be­fore Jus­tice Rachel Dun­ning­ham in the High Court in Dunedin yes­ter­day.

Findlay, 60, suf­fered hor­rific fa­cial in­juries, in­clud­ing head in­juries and the loss of his left eye, af­ter turn­ing a gun on him­self in a nearby re­serve at Truby King Re­serve, in the Otago coastal town of Sea­cliff, af­ter killing Comer­ford.

He was found by a mem­ber of the pub­lic on the morn­ing of March 8, 2016, prompt­ing a large po­lice re­sponse.

Po­lice later found the blood­ied body of 54-year-old Comer­ford, Findlay’s neigh­bour, in her home and ini­tially thought she had been shot.

Comer­ford had died the night be­fore in her run-down wooden prop­erty, which was cor­doned off by po­lice as they tried to piece to­gether what hap­pened.

The sit­u­a­tion was com­pounded by Findlay, who re­quired ex­ten­sive surg­eries, not re­mem­ber­ing the in­ci­dent, his coun­sel Ju­dith Ablett-Kerr QC told the court.

The court heard Comer­ford and Findlay used to drink to­gether and there were nu­mer­ous ar­gu­ments be­tween them.

At one point Findlay, who lived in a house truck next to Comer­ford, told her she was ‘‘mad and crazy’’ and that she ‘‘de­served to die’’.

Two events in early 2016 acted as a trig­ger for Findlay, in­clud­ing Comer­ford com­ing into pos­ses­sion of his cell­phone.

She used the phone to con­tact a fe­male friend of Findlay, ru­in­ing a chance of a re­la­tion­ship be­tween them.

Findlay con­tacted lo­cal po­lice sev­eral times to com­plain about Comer­ford.

He told po­lice since buy­ing the land from Comer­ford, 61⁄ years ear­lier, he had been sub­jected to ‘‘hell’’.

On March 7, 2016, he bought a cask of wine from a shop at nearby Kar­i­tane.

A ve­hi­cle driven by Comer­ford nar­rowly missed swip­ing him and he com­plained to po­lice.

About 7pm, he smashed the head­lights of her truck and the win­dows of her house.

He then struck her a dozen times with a blunt in­stru­ment.

She suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant frac­tures to her face and body and would have sur­vived for only a short time.

Foren­sic anal­y­sis re­vealed Findlay’s jeans had the vic­tim’s blood on them.

On his way to the re­serve, Findlay texted a friend to call him, but he en­tered the wrong num­ber.

Comer­ford’s fam­ily said while they were es­tranged from her, her death had af­fected them greatly.

Her 77-year-old mother said she did not want to think about how her daugh­ter died.

Comer­ford’s twin sis­ter, Jac­qui, said de­spite the pair be­ing es­tranged, it did not di­min­ish the loss of how she was taken.

She felt, de­pressed, anx­ious, an­gry and sad over her sis­ter’s death.

De­tec­tive Sergeant Stan Leish­man said po­lice were pleased Findlay had pleaded guilty, ‘‘which brings a bit of fi­nal­ity for the fam­ily’’.

He praised Comer­ford’s fam­ily for their ‘‘perserver­ance through­out the or­deal’’ and the hard work po­lice put into the case.

A Sea­cliff res­i­dent, who de­clined to be named, said the in­ci­dent had ‘‘hung over the whole vil­lage for 18 months now’’.

He said the pair were ‘‘drink­ing bud­dies’’.

While he did not get on with Comer­ford, he had many con­ver­sa­tions with Findlay who was a tal­ented artist and loved lit­er­a­ture.

Findlay will be sen­tenced on Oc­to­ber 17.


The Sea­cliff prop­erty where Sharon Comer­ford’s body was found.

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