In December 2010, 22-year-old Nikki Roper had been out of jail for just 5 days, when he strangled a young single mother to death. He had been in jail for an earlier assault, when he had punched and partially strangled her, and a protection order was in place.
That’s the cliff-notes version, but the more one knows of this story, the more tragic it becomes. Alexsis Maria Tovizi was 21-years-old and had a son who was 3-years-old at the time.
Released from jail only on December 1, 2010, by December 3, Nikki Roper had already managed to track her down, and met her at the house in Stanmore Road, Linwood where she was living. Alexsis Tovizi was, unwisely as it turned out, apparently trying to extend an olive-branch. On December 4, when he turned up at her home again, an argument occurred.
She was last known to be alive when she made a phone call at about 11pm on December 5, 2010. At 11.02pm, Nikki Roper used her phone to send a text to her boyfriend Daniel Edwards, saying that he was with Alexsis now.
The exact time the murder occurred is unknown. But what is known is that after strangulation took place, her body was placed in her son’s bed. Roper than drove off in her car, taking her laptop, a necklace and Kiwibank card with him. He dropped off the 3-year-old (who has name suppression) at a relative’s place, and said that Alexsis had gone away for a few days.
When by December 10, Alexsis Tovizi still had not been heard from, relatives had police break into her home. With the warm temperatures at that time of year, decomposition was quite advanced.
Nikki Roper continued to claim no knowledge of what had happened to Alexsis, and although the necklace was never recovered, he was seen with it on December 10.
In May, when the jury announced a guilty verdict, Roper bolted from the dock and attempted to grab and assault Tovizi family members who were in the court-room.
This morning there was extra security on hand, and Roper was led into the dock handcuffed with a large officer on each side of him.
The first Victim Impact Statement, given by Alexsis’ mother Cheryl Tovizi, was the most devastating VIS I have ever heard.
Cheryl described her daughter as a caring person with a huge heart who took on waifs. Alexsis had one day hoped to become a qualified social worker. She claimed that Roper had physically, psychologically and emotionally abused Alexsis.
Previously working for a good salary as a specialist in I.T. Cheryl Tovizi went on to detail the financial impact as she left her career, to become the full time carer for her severly traumatised grandson. Now she is dependent on welfare payments.
Her life now “hurts beyond words… a living nightmare”. Even the possibility of a personal good-bye to her daughter was effectively denied her. Due to the state of decomposition of Alexsis’ body, the family were told “best not to see her” and to ensure the casket stayed sealed closed.
Referring to how Roper, who had obtained autopsy photos, then paraded them around inside the jail as a “trophy”, Cheryl Tovizi said that showed “his obvious lack of remorse”. And that for Alexsis’ 3-year-old son, (Roper) “took away his mother and left him with fear and insecurity”.
Perhaps the most intense part of Cheryl Tovizi’s statement came towards the end, when she described how her grandson had begged to be allowed to go inside the box with mummy.
A Victim Impact Statement prepared by a psychologist who had been counselling the boy, was read out by the Crown. Following that were statements by Alexsis’ father, and grandmother.
Eileen Tovizi said that her granddaughter’s biggest mistake was “trying to help” Roper, and that the reason why he killed her was because she had “a boyfriend that wasn’t him”. She said Roper was “smiling and smirking all through the trial”.
Alexsis’ step-father gave a statement telling how he had been like a father to Alexsis since she was just 11-years-old. Since her murder he had had to seek medical treatment for depression and his mood was affecting his ability to work.
The Crown then made submissions on aggravating factors, of which there were many (not least of which, was killing Alexsis just five days after being released from jail, (from serving a sentence for previously strangling her) and, while a protection order was in place. A sentence of between 13 years and 14 years six months was suggested.
Simon Shamy, counsel for the defence, made submissions on mitigating factors, of which there were few, and indeed none that His Honour the Judge accepted. Mr Shamy suggested a sentence of 12 years minimum.
In summing up, Justice Forrest Millar said that this “day of reckoning has been a long time coming”. He referred to statements made by Roper to other prisoners before he was released on December 1, that he would be “back for the big one” because he was going to kill her.
Justice Millar referred to the killing as being “clinically done” by a carotid sleeper hold, which leaves few if any marks and how Roper then went on to drain Alexsis’ bank account.
He accepted that Roper had a terrible childhood, and was eventually taken into state care at age 12, but said he had had plenty of chances since. Roper already had a “vast” record of some 60 convictions as an adult, including four for assaults and two for male-assaults-female.
Roper he said, had been taught and practiced the “sleeper hold” in prison in advance of committing the murder and he has refused to co-operate with the probation service (which considers him at “very high” risk of re-offending, especially against women).
Convicted of murder, the sentence is automatically “life” and the judge imposed a minimum non-parole period of 14 years six months. However he made it clear that Roper would need to have a serious attitude adjustment between now and then, as it was unlikely he would be released ever at all, if the parole board thought his chance of re-offending was high.
He was sentenced to nine months jail for taking Alexsis’ Subaru car, and stealing her laptop computer and draining her bank account. That sentence to be served concurrently with the life sentence.
I later heard it said that while standing handcuffed in the dock for sentencing today, that Nikki Roper was seen making gang-signals with his hands. I didn’t see this myself, but then I was trying not to look in his direction too often.
And that was it, the sentencing was finished, and as the family members slowly made their way out towards the building’s Durham Street exit, reporters from media including Newstalk ZB and RadioLive scrambled to get the best positions just outside the court-house doors, for the inevitable post-trial media scrum.