Self-confessed cocaine addict and nightclub bouncer Carl Whant has been found guilty of the rape and murder of heavily-pregnant teenager Nikitta Grender.
The jury at Newport Crown Court in South Wales also convicted Carl Whant of arson and the destruction of the 19-year-old’s unborn baby – a girl she had already named Kelsey-Mae.
Whant, 27, of Bettws, near Newport, was given a life sentence and told he must serve a minimum of 35 years.
Judge Mr Justice Griffith Williams told him he was “calculating and devious” and had behaved with “extraordinary hypocrisy”, even taking flowers to the Grender household.
Miss Grender was two weeks away from giving birth when the attack took place.
Whant pictured during the trial – he denied all the charges
Her charred remains were found in the flat she shared with her boyfriend Ryan Mayes in the Broadmead Estate in the early hours of February 5, 2011.
A post-mortem examination revealed she had been stabbed in the neck and in the abdomen – fatally wounding her unborn child.
Forensic scientists said Nikitta was killed before the fire, which also claimed the life of her pet dog.
Despite throwing away the murder weapon, Whant was caught after DNA evidence was found at the scene and in his car. Traces of his semen were also found inside Miss Grender’s body.
Whant, the second cousin and best friend of Ryan Mayes, denied all the charges.
He claimed to have had consensual sex with Miss Grender the afternoon before the attack – even though the court heard it was well known she disliked him.
The burnt-out flat where Nikitta’s charred body was found
Whant admitted the teenager was the first person he thought about whenever he “fancied sex”.
Prosecuting barrister Gregg Taylor claimed that Whant was infatuated with Miss Grender, which Whant also denied.
Mr Taylor QC showed the jury CCTV of Whant’s car near the murder scene around the time of the attack.
The prosecution also alleged scratch marks on Whant’s wrist and elbow were consistent with a struggle.
But defence barrister Chris Kinch dismissed the prosecution’s case, saying it was based largely on “circumstantial evidence”.
Mr Kinch QC told the jury the specks of blood found were hardly “consistent with a violent stabbing”.
Police investigating the murder search a water channel ditch
He argued the CCTV also showed there was not enough time to carry out the attack and return to the house party he had been attending on Corelli Street.
He claimed he had left the party to go to his grandmother’s house for cigarettes during the time of the attack and maintained the scratch marks were from a pub brawl earlier that night.
Whant admitted taking a cocktail of drugs and drink before getting behind the wheel that night and claimed he had taken an indirect route to his grandmother’s to avoid getting stopped by police.
The court heard he had previous convictions for burglary in 2010 and theft from a person in 2009.
Speaking outside the court on behalf of the family and Ryan Mayes, Miss Grender’s uncle Michael Brunnock said: “The last 12 months has been harder for us than you could ever imagine. We remain in total disbelief as to what happened.
“We will never deal with the tragic events that have stolen our family from us, but we hope we can at least start to understand what has happened.”
Mr Brunnock praised the work of Gwent Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing Whant to justice.