A man has been sentenced to life in prison for strangling an Australian United Nations aid worker in Fiji to death before placing coins on her eyes and sending a photograph of her body to her father.
Jennifer Downes, who worked as a logistics officer for the UN World Food Program in Suva, had just returned from an overseas assignment when her husband Henri Lusaka murdered her in their house while their three children were at home in July 2019.
Fiji High Court Justice Gihan Kulatunga said Lusaka had most likely pinned her to the ground while looking her straight in the eyes, strangling her for between three and eight minutes until “her life was squeezed out of her”.
Lusaka, who migrated to Fiji with Downes from Congo in 2017, had sent a series of messages to Downes’ father, Christopher Downes, in the days leading up to her murder accusing his daughter of having an affair with a co-worker. The 42-year-old had also abused the UN official in charge of security Charles O’Hanlan when he went with Fijian police to check on the house while Downes was away.
O’Hanlan had attempted to get Downes to leave the home she shared with Lusaka when she returned but she “point-blank” refused any of his suggestions to go to a safe house the day before she was murdered.
After strangling her to death, Lusaka placed coins on her eyes and sent a photograph to her father with the message “you lose motherf—, I win” and “this is what you made me do.”
Kulatunga said what happened at their home that day was known only to Lusaka, “and if at all, your three kids”. He said the circumstances and the pathologist’s evidence shed light on Downes’ last moments which showed she had fought for her life, due to the bruises and haemorrhaging on her body.
Downes worked as the World Food Program’s Pacific logistics and project officer based in Suva since 2017, and they resided at a rented-Service Street home in the Domain area, where many diplomats and development workers live.