Man shot ex-wife and mother-in-law with stolen rifle in 'execution', court told

A man shot dead his ex-wife, mother-in-law and pet dog with a stolen semi-automatic rifle in an execution-style killing after she rejected him and refused to reconcile, a court has heard.

Monday, 15th October 2018, 3:46 pm
Updated Monday, 15th October 2018, 4:48 pm
Two women were shot dead at a house in St Leonards, East Sussex. Craig Savage shot dead his ex-wife, mother-in-law and pet dog with a stolen semi-automatic rifle in an execution-style killing after she rejected him and refused to reconcile, Lewes Crown Court has heard. Photo credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Craig Savage is accused of murdering Michelle Savage, 32, and her mother, Heather Whitbread, 53, as well as Mrs Savage's dog, Zeus, on March 16.

Police were called to Mrs Whitbread's home in Bexhill Road, St Leonards, East Sussex, and found their bodies.

Mrs Savage had been shot about six times and her mother around seven times, Lewes Crown Court heard on Monday.

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Savage, 35, is standing trial after denying two counts of murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life but Benjamin Aina QC, prosecuting, said this was a "planned execution".

He told the court: "He carried out the shooting because he had been rejected by his wife. They had separated about a month before the shooting and he was desperate for a reconciliation.

"One of the entry wounds on each woman was accompanied by a muzzle mark. This indicates that the firearm was pressed fairly close to each woman and discharged in an execution-type manner."

Savage bombarded his estranged wife with text messages, threatened her with revenge porn, poured paint on family cars, and on her birthday - about a week before the killing - slashed her tyres, the court heard.

"All this to no avail. Michelle refused to reconcile", Mr Aina said.

Mrs Savage's grandmother, Patricia Groves, and her younger sister, Raven - who was seven months pregnant - hid in the three-bedroom semi-detached house to escape the shooting and were not hurt.

Savage is also accused of trying to fire the gun at an officer when police tried to apprehend him but it failed to discharge because the firing mechanism jammed, Mr Aina said.

The jury was shown the M4 semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle and told that Savage admitted robbery after stealing it "by force" with ammunition from a firing range after pointing it at a member of staff.

Dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, bearded Savage, of no fixed address, appeared to become upset as the prosecution opened its case, shaking his head and resting his chin on his hand before lowering his head and looking at the floor so he was barely visible in the dock.

Mr Aina said Savage's defence is likely to be that the shooting was a "complete accident" - the gun went off accidentally after he tripped and there was a struggle with his ex-wife.

Savage claims he had "no intention" of hurting her, but instead planned to kidnap her so police would shoot him in front of her in a "cop-assisted suicide", Mr Aina added.

Savage hid after the shooting and it took officers an hour and a half to find him.

During their nine-year relationship, including a five-year marriage, Savage was described as a "very controlling person" with the "attitude of a teenager", the court heard.

He would bombard his wife with phone calls and texts, wanting to know where she was and who she was with, Mr Aina said.

He was "horrible" to her dog and the "last straw in the relationship" was when he was found "pinning" it to the ground, jurors were told.

Even after the break-up, Mrs Savage accused him of trying to "control every last interaction" and repeatedly said she did not want to see him anymore when he continued to pester her with messages.

In one exchange read to the court, she said: "We are over. I am 100% sure we are not getting back together. I don't want to try again."

He threatened to kill himself, wrongly accused her of giving him a sexually transmitted disease and demanded she hand over lingerie and sex toys. Even though she told him she was taking them to the rubbish tip, he said he wanted to destroy them himself so she could not use them with her "next man".

In another text, Savage added: "(I want) every last outfit, every last stocking. The fire will be satisfying."

Mr Aina added: "He could not accept that she doesn't want to talk to him about the relationship."

The trial, presided over by High Court judge Maura McGowan, continues and is expected to last up to three weeks.