A “cold-blooded killer” who violently murdered a Christchurch sex worker is preparing to be released from prison early next year – back to South Africa where his family still believe he is innocent.
Jule Patrick Burns, now aged 47, continues to deny murdering former Auckland woman Susan ‘Suzie’ Sutherland more than 17 years after her brutal slaying.
Burns was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years in what was, at the time, one of New Zealand’s longest sentences.
The South African-born immigrant picked up 36-year-old Sutherland for sex from Christchurch’s red-light district of Manchester St in April 2005, drove her to a vacant inner-city section in the dark, and strangled her in an attack described by an expert as among the most violent he had seen.
But in a new decision obtained by the New Zealand Herald, it is revealed that Burns will be released on March 20 next year.
His release, however, comes with special conditions that he will only be released into the custody of either New Zealand Immigration authorities or the police before he is deported straight back to South Africa.
He can never return to New Zealand.
“[Burns] has a modest knowledge of the small town he wants to be released to when he returns to South Africa,” says the Parole Board decision released to the Herald.
He has a number of friends and family members in the area “who will support him with reintegration”, the board noted after the December 5 hearing at Whanganui Prison. Burns also has a plan to work, making furniture.
“As far as we can ascertain, however, his family thinks he is innocent and so their capacity to oversee risk is limited, but we are satisfied they would provide good reintegrative opportunities for him. And so, we have decided that he is no longer an undue risk and can be released,” the decision says.
Burns has filed a number of unsuccessful challenges to his conviction.
When he was last seen by the Parole Board in May this year, they noted that Burns has, and still does, deny the offense.
At the last hearing, the board asked that he develop a safety plan for his proposed release, which he provided earlier this month.
“We think there is further work that could be done on his safety plan before his ultimate release, including recognition of an unhealthy lifestyle, his regular use of sex workers while in a relationship and his emotional regulation and the fact that there was evidence that he could react quickly without thinking and therefore without regulating his emotions,” the decision says.
And although Burns had originally had a number of aggressive incidents behind bars, his behavior over the years has “significantly improved”, the board says, and held a number of prison jobs “which he has done to a high standard”.
“Indeed, the psychologist noted an unusual level of support from prison management for his multiple roles,” the board says.
When Burns was sentenced at the High Court in Christchurch in April 2006, Justice John Hansen was convinced Sutherland’s killing justified the extended minimum non-parole period, which can be imposed for murders with a high degree of brutality, cruelty, callousness or depravity, or where the victim is considered vulnerable.
The evidence of people who overheard the attack from their beds was “graphic as to Ms Sutherland’s last moments”, while Crown prosecutor Phil Shamy said it was apt to describe Burns as a “cold-blooded killer”.
“This woman was little in stature and didn’t stand a chance against this man who was standing over her. She was particularly vulnerable, as all prostitutes who work on the street are to this type of offense,” Shamy said.