He stabbed his former girlfriend to death then tried to explain away the scratches on his face by saying women had flagged down his car and clawed at his face. After he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years yesterday, Anneke Smith recounts how Rohit Singh's obsession with Arishma Chand ended her short life.
It was a fleeting moment of unease, in the darkness of that November 2017 night, that buffered the time between believing their daughter was alive and discovering she was dead, the victim in a horror story. At the age of 24, Arishma Chand, the mother of a three-year-old, had been stabbed to death in her family home in Manurewa, South Auckland.
Her parents went inside their Maich Road house and found her in a pool of blood on her bedroom floor. The murderer? A man she dated in 2016, but with whom she had decided she didn't want to spend the rest of her life with. He made sure she didn't get to spend it with anyone.
Rohit Deepak Singh was infatuated. A 42-year-old divorcee from Fiji, his prospects for love, marriage and children were bleak when he met Chand, who had also moved to New Zealand from Fiji. She was a package deal; bringing her daughter from a recently ended marriage to the relationship. He told the jury at his trial, "She is the first person who showed me ... I can become a father." But it was by no means a perfect match. Singh was a long-standing friend of her father's so the couple kept their relationship secret. They spent roughly six months together while she boarded at his home in south-east Auckland's Flat Bush, but things changed when she fell pregnant.
Chand didn't want to have a baby with him. She had an abortion and began to pull away from him, deleting photographs off her phone and telling friends and family she didn't want to marry him. She ended the relationship in August 2016, but it was far from over. Singh refused to accept they had broken up. He stalked, messaged, talked about and obsessed over her. The extent of his infatuation became clear to police when they went through his phone and found screeds and screeds of messages sent from him to her in a one-sided conversation.
He messaged her on an almost-daily basis. Once he sent her a picture he had taken of his chest; her face was tattooed onto it. Another explained how he talked to a photograph of her on his mirror every morning. Chand didn't answer the calls or messages but he persisted. On Valentine's Day he left a bouquet of flowers at her house. He watched her home from a distance and paid someone to keep an eye on her and report back to him when he couldn't. But by November 2017, he had given up hope she would return to him - and he turned his mind to killing her.
The night she was murdered, Chand had known something wasn't right. She'd spent the evening celebrating her boyfriend's birthday at SkyCity before the pair returned to her family home just before 1am. They had just settled in the lounge when they heard a noise outside. They investigated but found nothing. Her boyfriend was hesitant to leave before her parents got home, but she told him they weren't far away, and he was tired. As she watched him get into his car, she noticed something peculiar; a rock sitting on the front deck. It hadn't been there when they arrived. She called out to her boyfriend, but he said not to worry. Chand's parents were leaving a friend's place in Māngere when they received a call from her. She wanted to know when they would be home as she was worried someone was outside the house. They told her they weren't far away; they pulled into the driveway 16 minutes later.
The day Chand's parents gave evidence they each described arriving home to find their daughter in a pool of blood. She had been stabbed in the back, arm, left side and, fatally, the groin. Her head had also been repeatedly struck with a weapon, fracturing her skull. Stab wounds to her hands indicated she had tried to shield herself from the attack. There was nothing her parents could do and, as the house filled with her mother's screams of anguish, her father told her not to touch Chand; their daughter's body was now part of a crime scene.
He must have known he would be the prime suspect. After leaving Manurewa, Singh drove to the North Shore and called police in what can only be described as a calculated attempt to explain away the scratches that covered his face. During the 111 call he told the operator he'd just been robbed by three women who flagged down his car then scratched his face and stole his watch. His voice was calm, although a little distracted, as he told the farcical tale. The operator was patient as she repeatedly asked for basic details he struggled to deliver, but there was disbelief in her voice when he told her he didn't see his assailants' car's number plate because the women had covered it with flowers.
Listen to the beginning of Rohit Singh's 111 call here:
The evidence was damning. Singh's DNA was found underneath Chand's fingernails, her blood was found in the footwell of his car, and he was placed in the area of her home at the time of her killing. At his murder trial last year, he took the stand and tried to explain all this away. He told the jury he and Chand had resumed their relationship in secret and agreed to see one another the night she died. Speaking through a Fiji-Hindi language interpreter, he said he arrived at Chand's house and found her wounded and semi-conscious. He tried to wake her but she didn't recognise him and scratched his face. When she finally came to, she told him to leave her as she didn't want her father to find out about their relationship; her father wasn't far away and he would help her. He told the court he left the house in shock and went straight home to shower before putting his bloodied clothes and shoes in a plastic bag, which he threw in hot mix asphalt.
The jury took 45 minutes to find him guilty of murder, and yesterday he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years.
Singh's lawyer asked the judge to consider Singh's cognitive abilities, saying he had communication difficulties and borderline abilities so prison would be a tougher environment for him. But Justice Powell told Singh, "I do not accept level of cognitive ability or communication issues provide any basis that prison will have a disproportionally negative effect on you. There is also no evidence before me that there should be adjustment on compassionate or medical grounds. In particular, no evidence before me to suggest that you had a difficult upbringing... Overall, there can be no doubt, that your calculated, brutal and callous murder of Arishma in her home on 12 November, 2017, was an evil act, the consequences of which can never be undone."
Chand's parents, sister and 3-year-old daughter were in the courtroom to see Singh sentenced. Afterwards, Brett Shields, an acting detective and senior sergeant, spoke on their behalf. "They were expecting a 17-year sentence so anything on top of that was a bonus for the family. They are dealing with a very tragic case... It's closure, it's a chance for them to start rebuilding as a family."
This article was first published on Radio NZ.