Valerie Heaney was murdered in her own home in Christchurch. Photo / Facebook
The man who battered Christchurch caregiver Val Heaney to death in her home with a hockey stick while she was isolating with Covid-19 has been jailed for life.
And details of his attack on a previous partner can now be published.
Heaney, 64, was found dead in the hallway of her Bromley home on April 4.
Elliot Ajay Prakash, 43, was later charged with her murder.
He was a boarder at Heaney’s home and the pair were sometimes lovers.
Shortly before she was murdered Heaney had presented Prakash with a letter telling him to move out amid ongoing threats and abuse.
Prakash admitted the charge of murder in August and was sentenced in the High Court at Christchurch today by Justice Cameron Mander.
The Herald can now also reveal that in 2009 he assaulted and threatened to kill another woman with whom he was in a relationship.
In court today, members of Heaney’s family spoke of their loss before Justice Mander handed down the life sentence – ordering Prakash to serve a minimum term before he is eligible for parole.
Justice Mander heard emotional victim impact statements from members of Heaney’s family.
Their names have been suppressed to protect their privacy .
Her mother’s statement was read as she was in hospital and too unwell to attend court.
“This whole process has been very hard on her,” her son-in-law said before reading her thoughts to the court.
“You chose to take my daughter’s life… I am at a huge loss to try and understand what you have done, I am angry at you,” she wrote.
“I find each day getting harder and harder and find day-to-day life passing me by as I struggle to grieve.
“At 89-years-old, life each day is a real struggle… the emotional harm you have caused me and my family is unexplainable.
“My final years will be grieving, and sad.”
Heaney’s sister spoke on behalf of herself and her siblings.
“Our lives have been turned upside down… I feel so much pain for my poor mum,” she said.
“To see her cry the way she has and the anger she feels…”
She said her mental health and that of her sisters had “taken a battering”.
“It’s been hugely stressful… and many days it’s hard to see the light, but we do to be able to stand here today and see justice for my sister.”
She said she struggled to think about how much Heaney trusted Prakash.
“She was putting you before friends and family, so for you to do this in her safe place is horrendous,” she said.
“Today you are sitting in the right place, what you did to my sister was inconceivable… you crossed the line.
“To take things from a disagreement to murder, you do not deserve your freedom and today you return to where you belong – locked up.
“We hope prison will be hard for you… you still have your life but Valerie does not, because you chose to take it.”
Heaney’s nephew thanked the police and Victim Support for their help after the murder.
“Elliot this is a statement no loved one should have to make… life has a precious value and we should be able to live,” he said.
“You brought murder into our lives and that cloud will stay with us forever.”
He said caring for people was Heaney’s “calling”.
“Aunty Val embraced it, it was part of her character… we’ve all lost a part of our future, a caring, beautiful woman who put others first,” he said.
“During her life she only ever had jobs that involved caring… Did I do enough to look after her? I ask myself. This is an unwanted thought you’ve left me with.”
The nephew told the court that he will “never accept or understand” the “avoidable and senseless act of violence” that ended Heaney’s life.
“You attacked her from behind… it was her house, she should have considered it a safe environment.
“She fought you, what a brave lady. You could have stopped, but didn’t.
“You continued until there was no hope.
“Thinking through her last moments of terror, through fighting…. You’ve taken a special person and friend away from so many people.
“We had no say or choice, nor did Aunty Val… and that is something I will never be able to accept.”
He implored Justice Mander to hand down the strongest sentence available and to give little discount for any mitigating circumstances.
“Aunty Val received the ultimate life discount at the hands of this man,” he said.
“We ask that you hold this man fully accountable for his senseless actions and to the fullest extent.”
As the statements were read Prakash sat in the dock with his head bowed.
A letter and a murder – Val Heaney’s last moments
Heaney had lived at Walcot St for decades and started running her family home as a boarding house after her husband Gavin died around 13 years ago.
The experienced carer preferred “mature age group” boarders, according to previous advertisements, and it’s understood that three or four people would be living there at a time.
Heaney, who worked as a carer at a service provider for people with intellectual disabilities, was isolating at her home with Covid-19 when she was killed on April 3.
Her body was found the next day and police initially treated her death as “unexplained”.
After a post-mortem examination Heaney’s case was upgraded to a homicide inquiry.
Attention soon turned to Prakash.
He had been living as a boarder at Heaney’s for 16 months and the pair engaged in a sometimes-sexual relationship – but maintained separate bedrooms.
On April 3 the pair were watching a game of rugby together when a heated argument developed.
Heaney then wrote Prakash a letter advising him he had one week to leave the property.
She noted that his threats and abuse towards her were the reason.
When she handed the letter to Prakash he screwed it up and threw it in a corner of his bedroom.
Heaney then sat down at her dining table to write a second letter, further explaining why she wanted him to move out.
She outlined some of the threats Prakash had made including “I’ll see you end up in the ground like your daughter”.
Heaney’s daughter, Natasha, who had Down syndrome, died in 2021.
As Heaney sat writing, Prakash came up behind her and took to her with a hockey stick.
As he repeatedly hit her around the head she tried to flee, making it to the front door where she left bloodied handprints.
Prakash forced her back into the house and Heaney fell face down in the hallway.
He kept assaulting her.
The court heard it would have been obvious to Prakash that Heaney was dead.
It was unclear exactly how many times he hit her but she suffered at least 10 blunt force trauma wounds to her head and lacerations including one more than 9cm long.
Heaney’s skull was fractured into ” many” pieces and part of it landed on the floor near her body.
She had defensive wounds to her hands including fractures.
After he killed Heaney, Prakash went to bed then left the house at 6am the next day and went to work.
He called police just before 5pm the next day claiming he had arrived home to find blood on the door.
He said he had not been inside and police officers arrived soon after and located Heaney.
Prakash denied having anything to do with her death.
However, he was later charged with her murder.
No remorse for ‘callous and cruel’ crime – prosecutor
Crown Prosecutor Penny Brown said Prakash’s actions were “callous and cruel” and had a “devastating impact” on Heaney’s family and friends.
“She should have been safe,” Brown said.
She said his deception after the brutal murder – “fiddling” with the evidence, hiding the eviction letter and murder weapon and lying to police for weeks about what happened at the house – made the situation even worse.
“There is no evidence of Mr Prakash’s remorse,” Brown said.
She said Prakash had “self-reported” to a pre-sentence report writer that he grew up in a violent and abusive home in Fiji.
However, he did not permit any independent corroboration of this story so Brown suggested it was fabricated and evidence of his “pathological lying”.
Prakash’s lawyer Kerry Cook said his client was sorry and had “significant regret that he has taken the victim from her family”.
“There is no way to fix this,” Cook said.
Cook said his client had “clear alcohol and clear anger” issues that he claimed he was willing to address.
He said there was no argument for “good character” given Prakash’s previous offending against a woman and his conduct after murdering Heaney.
He said his client was willing to engage in treatment, had genuine remorse and had offered to engage in the Restorative Justice process with Heaney’s family.
Justice Mander said the impact of the murder had been “profound” and “devastating”.
“It was a senseless act of violence,” he said.
He said Heaney was vulnerable, attacked from behind with “no real opportunity to defend herself”.
“There is the fact Ms Heaney was murdered in her own home, where she was entitled to be safe,” he told the killer.
“You did not desist in your attack until it must have been obvious that you had taken Ms Heaney’s life.
“There is also the conduct after the murder… leaving Ms Heaney in the hallway, and your attempt to concoct a false story… and the devastating impact on her family.”
Justice Mander said a pre-sentence report revealed that while Prakash had “led a largely constructive life” since moving to New Zealand from Fiji two decades ago.
However any good work was “undermined” by his previous conviction for family violence.
Prakash claimed he was not predisposed to family violence or other violence but was affected by it because of his upbringing and an intimidating and abusive father.
Justice Mander noted there was “normalisation” of family harm and misogyny in his life.
That may be in part to the abuse he claimed occurred in his childhood home – but that link was “tenuous” said the judge.
Justice Mander sentenced Prakash to life in prison and ordered him to serve at least 13 years before he could be eligible for parole.
Another city – another woman: Prakash’s earlier violence
Documents released to the Herald by the Auckland District Court show that Prakash, then living in Mt Wellington, was arrested in December, 2009, on offences related to two family violence incidents.
On December 18, 2009, he assaulted his wife – the mother of his young daughter – and threatened to kill her.
The next day he assaulted the woman again.
He was also charged with intentionally damaging a wall.
The court documents confirm that in late January, 2010, Prakash pleaded guilty to the charges.
He was convicted and sentenced to nine months supervision for each of the assault and threatening charges.
The sentences were served concurrently.
The sentencing judge ordered Prakash to “attend a stopping violence course” and any counselling as directed by his probation officer.
He was also ordered to pay $100 to the owner of the property where the wall was damaged – his landlord.
The marriage ended after the assault and Prakash has been estranged from his daughter since.
Sadly, Prakash’s violence against women continued when he met Heaney – but this time his actions were fatal.
Family violence – do you need help?
If you’re in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don’t stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay
Where to go for help or more information:
• Shine, free national helpline – 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 – 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz