A man is beginning a life prison sentence for the murder of Stela Domador-Kuzma in Bournemouth.
Ryan Justin Thornton, 20, pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to killing the 34-year-old Venezuelan national in her bedroom in Bournemouth on Sunday 8 July 2018.
Thornton, who appeared at Winchester Crown Court today, Friday 30 November 2018, was jailed for life and told he would have to serve a minimum of 22 years and six months before he would be eligible for parole.
The court heard that Stela had been living and working in the UK for four years and at the time of the offence was renting a room in a flat in Richmond Gardens. She shared the kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities with Thornton and another woman. Thornton had moved into his room on Friday 22 June 2018 and Stela had moved into hers on Sunday 1 July 2018.
On Saturday 7 July 2018 Stela had spent the day with friends on Bournemouth beach and returned home at around 7pm.
The day also marked Thornton’s 20th birthday and he had gone out drinking and eating with friends and family and watched the England versus Sweden World Cup quarter final.
He then met two other men and bought some alcohol before spending the remainder of the evening drinking and playing video games.
He was last seen on CCTV approaching his flat with a carrier bag at 12.43am.
At 8.30am on Sunday 8 July 2018 a 999 call was made by a member of the public requesting an ambulance to Richmond Gardens to help Thornton who said he had been stabbed in the knee by someone who had attacked him in an alleyway.
Police officers who had arrived at the scene decided to check on the welfare of the other occupants in his address.
Pub chef Thornton provided them with a set of keys, which they used to gain access to the main door and his bedroom. Officers woke a second flatmate by knocking on her door.
Inside Thornton’s room officers were alerted to the faint sound of an alarm coming from a partially-closed laptop. When they opened the lid the alarm deactivated and they saw a pornographic film playing on the screen.
Officers continued to check the remaining rooms but the door to Stela’s room was locked and there was no reply. The second housemate informed officers about a spare set of room keys in the communal kitchen.
They entered Stela’s room, which was in darkness. They used their torches to search the room and discovered a large amount of blood on the bed and walls of the room. There was a duvet covering the bed and a large blood-stained kitchen knife on a sofa. The officers lifted the duvet and found Stela’s naked body underneath. She had obvious stab wounds to her neck, chest and side.
Thornton, who was still being treated in the back of the ambulance outside, was arrested on suspicion of murder. He made no reply and was later taken to hospital for treatment. Following his arrest officers found a second set of keys on Thornton, which belonged to Stela and contained the key to her room.
A murder investigation was launched by Dorset Police, led by detectives from the Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT).
A post-mortem examination determined the cause of death as multiple stab wounds.
Forensic testing later revealed that Stela’s blood was found on Thornton’s arm and other parts of his body. His semen was also found on Stela’s body.
The knife was examined and blood from both Stela and Thornton was located on the handle and blade.
Thornton’s laptop was examined and several videos of a violent sexual nature were found, one of which was identified as being the video found playing when officers entered his room. In addition 572 indecent images of children were found on his laptop including 98 of the most serious Category A images.
Thornton was seen by doctors in hospital and one asked him how he sustained his injuries. Thornton told him: “I stabbed myself in the knee out of frustration because I had stabbed someone.” He also told doctors the knife had “someone else’s blood on it”.
He was assessed by a consultant psychiatrist and Thornton told him he had been drinking heavily and smoking cannabis and returned home at about 1am. He said he needed money for his rent and decided to take it from Stela. He stated he took a knife from the kitchen to stop her from screaming if she woke up. She did wake up and he just reacted and panicked and stabbed and strangled her.
During the sentencing hearing, the judge heard a Victim Impact Statement read by a family member on behalf of Stela’s mother Olga Domador-Kuzma. She wrote:
“Stela was an active member of the community; she loved to volunteer her time to help others and had a particular soft spot for animals, often rescuing strays, helping them to find new homes and when possible adopting them.
“Stela was a responsible, focused, hard worker and determined when she faced difficulties. She left footprints in the hearts of everyone who had the pleasure to meet her and she will always be remembered for her big and generous heart.
“Stela, as many of our family members did, left Venezuela in the hope of finding a new home, a place where she felt safe, where justice and law exist. She chose the UK for its job opportunities and its organized and safe society.
“I have missed not having Stela with me every day for the last 4 years but I knew she was only a phone call away. Now every time I want to reach her I have to face the reality that she is no longer with us. I have no words to express how much it hurts knowing that Stela won’t be joining us anymore for Christmas dinners, family trips or simply a chat to know how her day has been.
“Stela loved so much to be around people, sharing meals or just her day’s work stories. This is why when she heard that the room had become available she didn’t think twice about moving back into the flat. I never imagined that Stela’s life could be in jeopardy in the place that she loved so much to call home. I spoke to her that night when she came back from having a fantastic day at the beach with one of her best friends from home. Stela just told me how happy and tired she was and that she was looking forward to going to the beach the next day as the weather forecast was looking good.
“I will never forget the moment my phone rang the very next day and her friend told me something had happened to Stela and she was no longer alive. My heart stopped for a few seconds, I could not find the words to say anything other than “Stela cannot be dead”, I spoke to her last night and she was at home.
“The violent, tragic, unexpected and irreparable loss of our beloved Stela, so soon in her life, so far from her family has caused profound sorrow to all those who knew her; family, friends, and work colleagues. I received an enormous amount of messages from all over the world and they were all in shock, trying to find explanations for such a horrific event. Every night I go to bed thinking about Stela’s dream and future plans to bring me to the UK to live with her. Only God knows what Stela went through that horrible night. Nobody deserves to have their beautiful life end in such a heart-breaking way.
“One’s freedom ends where another begins. Unfortunately someone crossed Stela’s path and decided that he had the authority to violate her rights and take her life away. Stela did not even have the opportunity to defend herself as she was asleep when the cowardly murderer perpetrated the crime. How can any members of our family and her friends ever feel secure sharing common accommodation?
“Stela was by no means a big earner but she always made sure that her mother, her brother, niece and nephew were never short of food, medicine and clothes and when needed Stela would cover the rent expenses making sure we had a safe roof over our heads.
“Stela will always be remembered as a joyful person with a sassy smile that embraced life. She brought happiness to all around her. This is why I push myself every day to get out of bed and remember my only daughter who was my pillar, not only emotionally but financially too.
“Losing someone you love is always a sad and difficult moment, but losing a daughter in such a way is against reason; the violent and abrupt way it happened is just beyond any pain I have ever suffered in my life. Every day I ask myself the same question: Why Stela if he barely knew her? I only wish that the criminal is kept locked up so that a tragedy like Stela’s can never happen again to someone else.
“Our family wishes to thank the police and everybody involved in Stela’s case for their support. Nothing will bring my daughter back, but I just hope that justice prevails and people in Bournemouth can feel safe.
“In memory of Stela I now live my life with no excuses, one life to live not knowing when and how it will end.”
The Hon. Mrs Justice May said there was no doubt that Thornton entered Stela’s room at night when she was asleep with the intention to have forced sex with her.
Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Derbyshire, of MCIT, said: “This was a truly awful crime. Ryan Thornton was fuelled by alcohol, drugs and pornography when he decided to go into Stela’s bedroom armed with a knife. He clearly intended to use that knife and he carried out a violent sexually-motivated attack on Stela, inflicting numerous fatal stab wounds to her body.
“Our thoughts, above all, remain with Stela’s family and friends. I hope that Ryan Thornton’s admission of guilt and subsequent imprisonment today is of some small comfort.”
On Tuesday 20 November 2018 Thornton appeared at Poole Magistrates’ Court and entered a guilty plea to 11 counts of possession of indecent images of a child. He was handed an eight-month prison sentence to run concurrently.