Maketu toddler’s mother and great-grandparents confront her murderer in Tauranga court

The mother of slain toddler Nevaeh Ager confronted the man who murdered her “little princess” at a heart-wrenching sentencing hearing in Tauranga.

Nevaeh’s father, Aaron George Izett, 39, was sentenced to at least 17 years in jail after he was found guilty by a jury in November of his daughter’s murder and two other assault charges.

Izett was also found guilty of assaulting Nevaeh’s great-grandfather John Sturgess and Senior Constable Andrew McDonald during his arrest on March 21, 2019.

At Izett’s sentencing hearing yesterday in the High Court at Tauranga before Justice Christine Gordon QC, Nevaeh’s mother Alyson Ager read her victim impact statement to Izett.

Two supporters stood at Ager’s side, one holding a wooden box containing Nevaeh’s ashes adorned with colourful images of Peppa Pig, the toddler’s favourite TV cartoon character.

Many of Ager’s whānau and supporters wore T-shirts printed with Nevaeh’s image on the front and many shed tears during the hearing.

Alyson Ager, who entered court carrying her daughter’s ashes, told Izett in her victim impact statement that she still struggled to understand why he had beaten and hurt her “precious little princess”.

“Daddy’s little princess, that’s what you used to call our beautiful girl, and that’s what you used to refer to her as. I used to say, ‘no mummy’s little princess’ but because of you she is nobody’s little princess any longer.”

Ager also said she spent the past 18 months thinking about why this happened.

“You were the person who wanted us to have a second baby, so Nevaeh would have a little friend.If you loved us, how could you do this?

“How can I explain the impact of losing my princess. But not only that, her father, the man that was meant to give her unconditional love, murdered her.

“I have gone through anger, sadness, guilt and every single emotion that you can think of, I have been there. It took me a while to accept you murdered our daughter.

“You beat her, you hurt her, our precious little princess, and it makes me angry you blame the drugs. Take some responsibility, Aaron.

“I know I can’t change what happened and bring Nevaeh back but I still live with the guilt every day that I left you in charge of our princess.”

Ager also told Izett that she couldn’t bring herself to think about Nevaeh’s last few hours of trauma, and the fear she went through at her father’s hands.

She continued to have flashbacks and suffered from some “very black and dark” moments over the past 18 months, she said.

“Nevaeh was my shadow, she was with me 24-7… She was my pride and joy and you murdered the love of my life, my everything… And you will have to live with that.

“I know Nevaeh would have been a beautiful sister to our baby boy and she will always be my princess in my heart. “

Nevaeh’s great-grandparents John and Nicky Sturgess also read their victim impacts.

Nicky Sturgess sobbed as she described the deep feelings of loss and the constant reminders in their home that Nevaeh was no longer with them.

“She should have been here at Christmas, laughing and running around like a happy child. She was taken from us too soon.”

Nicky said there were no words to describe the pain, the loss that she and her husband, Nevaeh’s mother and the rest of the whānau were suffering.

“To this day I carry around a lot of guilt… If I knew for one minute that a father could do this to his beautiful little girl I would have taken her with us and not left her with you.

“This has affected our whānau deeply. I know it has affected Aly, she is not the same person she was… I will never forget our princess.”

John Sturgess told Izett that their families had “collectively been shattered and deeply distressed” by Nevaeh’s death.

“She has gone to heaven too soon. The homicide was violent and ultimately carried out by a person she had every right to have complete trust in – her natural father.”

Sturgess said having to identify Nevaeh’s body was an “extremely traumatic procedure”.

“The extensive bruising, and lacerations around Nevaeh’s pretty little face, arms and neck clearly identified the struggle our brave little girl had to put up in her last gasps of life.”

He said the images of trauma inflicted on Nevaeh, who he loved deeply, would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“It’s beyond belief that anybody would carry out such a despicable and vicious assault of a defenceless and innocent child.

“I loved Nevaeh deeply. I have difficulty trying to find any forgiveness for you, Aaron… Needless to say, I never wish to see you ever again,” Sturgess said.

Senior Constable Andrew McDonald who was also assaulted by Izett chose not to submit a victim impact statement.

Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery QC said both the Crown and defence lawyer Nicholas Chisnall agreed that the only sentence that could be imposed was life imprisonment.

Raftery submitted that due to the brutality and callousness shown by Izett, the minimum non-parole period should start at 20 years before discounts for any mitigating factors.

He said only modest discounts should be given for Izett’s letter of remorse and the contents of his cultural background report which described his dysfunctional upbringing.

He said in terms of the degree of remorse shown by Izett he had tried to deflect responsibility for his actions onto his drug-taking and his claimed disturbed state of mind.

Raftery said there was clear evidence that Izett’s methamphetamine binge in the days leading up to Nevaeh’s death was behind his offending rather than a diagnosed psychosis or disease of the mind.

Only modest discounts should be given for expressed remorse and personal mitigating factors, he argued.

Izett’s lawyer Nicholas Chisnall said a pre-sentence report found a clear causal nexus between his client’s very troubled upbringing and his offending.

Chisnall said a cultural background report also revealed a number of personal factors which the court should take into account, including Izett’s dislocation from his Māori roots, periods of homelessness and experiencing a violent and somewhat dysfunctional upbringing from a young age, he said.

Chisnall said the “building blocks” to what happened in March 2019 had been established when Izett was a teenager and ended up on the streets at 15.

Chisnall said Izett accepted he was going to receive a lengthy prison sentence but he urged Justice Christine Gordon to take account his dysfunctional and violent upbringing.

He also argued the starting point for the minimum non-parole period should be 18 years as there were more serious cases of its kind, and 20 years was too high.

Justice Gordon told Izett that the cruelty and callousness of his actions was a particular aggravating factor which must be taken into account in the sentence he received.

She also took into account that Izett’s remorse letter contained “repeated efforts to deflect responsibility for his offending” against his very vulnerable and defenceless daughter.

She said while the Crown’s 20-year minimum parole period submission was too high, after taking into account modest discounts for personal factors and remorse, a minimum non-parole period 17 years was not manifestly unjust.

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