Murder end of drinking mates’ row
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.