The alleged killer on the first day of his trial at the High Court in Christchurch. Photo / Peter Meecham
A woman who allegedly murdered her partner and hid her body in her own compost pile for two weeks has been filmed making multiple trips to the supermarket to buy bin bags, bleach and other cleaning supplies .
And CCTV from a city bus interchange captured Rena Joyce dumping property in public trash cans just before turning herself in to police.
Joyce, 56, is charged with the murder of Martin Orme Berry, 55, at his home on Main North Rd on or about December 29, 2020.
She admitted to stabbing him in the neck and slitting his throat, then dragging his body outside and burying it in a compost pile under rotting food, leaves and vegetation.
His body was found two weeks later after Joyce turned himself in to police and revealed the murder.
She maintains her death was an accident after a ‘spirited argument’ in which she ‘cracked down’ and is defending the murder charge at a trial in the High Court.
Today the jury in the trial saw CCTV from January 12 last year – the day Joyce walked into Christchurch Central Police Station and said she wanted to ‘confess’ she had ‘homicide involuntary” his partner.
Detective Scott Taylor told the court that Joyce traveled to the city center by bus from New Brighton where she was staying.
CCTV from the Christchurch Central Bus Interchange shows Joyce getting off the bus with a number of bags.
She was then filmed dropping items into various bins.
Taylor said a bag was thrown entirely into the women’s restroom.
Joyce then walked about 200m to Christchurch’s Justice and Emergency Services precinct – home to the District and High Courts and Central Police Station – and spent 30 minutes talking to a member of the Department of Justice staff at the surety counter.
Taylor said from there she went to the adjacent police station and told an officer at the counter that she “manslaughter” Berry and buried him in the back yard.
This afternoon the jury also saw pictures, footage and receipts relating to Joyce’s supermarket purchases after the alleged murder.
She is accused of cleaning up the scene after Berry’s murder and getting rid of almost all of her personal belongings.
Detective Constable Michael Hawke was tasked with putting together the footage and receipts after Joyce was charged.
He told the court that his groceries – on multiple trips to a Pak’n Save supermarket near Berry’s home – were multiple purchases of “Big Black Sack” trash bags and other trash bags, bleach , soap and dressings.
She also bought rubber gloves, heavy-duty bleach, scouring pads, matches, trash bags, disinfectant, multi-purpose cleaner, soap, energy drinks, and kegs or bottles of white wine.
A man who lived near Berry’s house told the court he met Joyce on New Year’s Eve.
He said she was wearing a black glove and was putting things in a trash can on the street.
She asked him what day it was and if the bottle shops were open.
He thought it was odd but didn’t consider the exchange significant until he learned that a body had been found nearby.
A direct neighbor of the troubled couple then told the jury what she had been through before Berry’s death.
Kathleen Rushton, who lives at the Community Home for the Sisters of Nazareth, said when Joyce moved to Berry she took her to meet the nuns.
He was excited and told them he planned to marry Joyce.
But Rushton said they were “continually” arguing and she could hear Berry and Joyce yelling and shouting at each other.
Berry rushed up one day and asked him to help Joyce who was in a state.
Rushton ended up calling 111 as she felt Joyce, who was “quite upset” and “thrown to the ground”, needed urgent medical attention.
Another time, she heard a commotion and went to find Joyce bleeding from a cut and Berry sitting “sheepishly” next to a drink that Rushton assumed had been used as a weapon.
She also called 111 that day.
She told the court she believed Joyce, after a stint in jail for assaulting Berry, was fine and had been sober for “a year” before the murder.
Rushton said she had never witnessed the assault, but often struggled to work from home because of their shouting and arguing.
When Joyce was in jail, Rushton spoke to Berry and told her it was “reckless” to bring her back into the house after her release.
She said he had raised the possibility of selling the house and moving up north.
But she thought he was “just lonely” and didn’t want to let the relationship go.
Rushton’s evidence was that Joyce got out of prison, she “noticed a change” in her.
Joyce was “proud” of her sobriety, helped by taking the drug Antabuse which blocks the processing of alcohol in the body.
They even threw a baking party when Joyce claimed she had been sober for a year.
The jury heard from members of Berry’s family yesterday about his life and his relationship with Joyce.
Both his brother and sister said Berry repeatedly told them he was afraid of Joyce, that she was violent and abusive, and that he wanted to leave her but didn’t know how.
They acknowledged his struggle with alcohol and that he had once assaulted Joyce – but believed it was a case of him defending himself during a violent attack from his partner.
Berry’s nephew Joseph told the court he lived with him for a few years when he first moved to Christchurch.
He said Berry was a heavy drinker but was always ‘cool, calm and collected’ and enjoyed chatting and being with people
He smoked cannabis almost daily but not heavily, and he cut back when he started seeing Joyce “maybe to impress her”.
Joseph Berry said his uncle was “a lovely guy” and when Joyce moved into his house “they seemed happy at first”.
“She drank a lot, she also liked to drink… I think they were perfect together in that regard,” he told the court.
When Berry was arrested for assaulting Joyce, he was released on bail at his nephew’s house.
“He came in out of the blue with a black eye and scratches…Rena caused them,” Joseph Berry said.
“It was kind of a big World War 3 fight and he was assaulted (the first one)… he was upset, like you would be.
“I was scared… Martin wouldn’t hurt a fly, he didn’t have bad bones in his body, he was just a little drunk.
“He was afraid to leave her – he didn’t know how to do it, it would have been just a fucking pickle to be in it.”
The trial, before Judge Jonathan Eaton, continues.
FAMILY VIOLENCE – DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you are in danger now:
• Call the police on 111 or ask neighbors of friends to call you.
• Run outside and go where there are other people.
• Shout for help so your neighbors can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don’t stop to get something else.
• If you are being abused, remember that it is not your fault. Violence is never acceptable
Where to go for help or more information:
• Shine National Freephone Helpline 9am-11pm daily – 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women’s Shelter: A free national helpline operates 24/7 – 0800 shelter or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: offers specialized cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. 24/7 Crisis Line 0800 742 584
• It’s Not Ok: information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz