He threatened to kill her. He shot her in the head. But he's not guilty of her murder.

After a torrent of domestic abuse Nelson Lai shot his girlfriend in the head. Yesterday the court delivered its verdict.

Warning: this item deals with domestic abuse and may be distressing for some readers.

A man who shot his girlfriend in the head after years of domestic abuse has been found not guilty of murder.

Instead, 35-year-old Nelson Lai was found guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter — despite shocking evidence showing Rekiah O’Donnell suffered violent abuse from Lai during their relationship, and despite evidence showing Lai had threatened to kill Rekiah so many times she was terrified of him.

On October 11 2013, Nelson Lai finally did it. At 9am that morning, he shot Rekiah O’Donnell in the head with a gun.

Rekiah O’Donnell

He said he didn’t mean it, despite the fact that he often beat her. He claimed it was “an accident”.

And yet, despite repeated cases similar to this, despite 24 women dying this year alone in Australia from domestic violence or alleged domestic violence, yesterday a court believed his claims.

Post continues after gallery:


During the court case, lawyers for Lai claimed that he had been ‘coming down’ from the drug ice when he picked up a gun and pulled the trigger. He said he did not know it was loaded, and claimed that he was minding the weapon for a friend.

Rekiah died on the floor of his bedroom at his parent’s house.


Lai tried to resuscitate Ms O’Donnell. He phoned  Triple 0, saying: “I shot my girlfriend in the head by accident… I didn’t know there was anything in it (the gun).”

Nelson Lai

The two met while Rekiah, or Kiah as her friends called her, was working at Harvey Norman in Sunshine.

He was an older man who immediately treated her with suspicion and mistrust. She was smitten.

Crown Prosecutor Andrew Grant told the Supreme Court that Lai subjected Ms O’Donnell to constant abuse, violence and threatening and controlling behaviour during the relationship.

Yet she tried to seek help and tried to stop him. The court heard evidence that at one stage she even presented him with a pamphlet on domestic violence, hoping he would get help.

The prosecutor said from the very beginning of their relationship there were signs something was wrong.

According to The Age on their first date Lai became jealous that Ms O’Donnell had been flirting with one of his friends, even threatening her that if she did not admit to being unfaithful with his friend who had been on their first date with them, he would come to her house and shoot her.

Evidence showed she tried to seek help.

Mr Grant presented evidence that Lai bombarded her with text messages abusing and insulting her, as well as accusing her of being unfaithful.

The evidence of the domestic abuse — evidence we hear time and time again in cases like this — was distressing.


“Lai would regularly monitor Ms O’Donnell’s phone to check who had been contacting her; he would send her messages via SMS and on Facebook,” the court heard.

The court also heard that Lai told Ms O’Donnell:

“My mission will be complete when you’re gone, slut. One day you’ll feel the full force of my hand you f—ing dog slut.”

 “I’ll kill you, rat.”

“You’re a dead dog walking. I’ll make you famous.” 

A letter from Ms O’Donnell

He would turn up at her house, and enter her bedroom without warning to interrogate her about alleged infidelities.

Within two months of the couple starting their relationship, Lai began physically assaulting Ms O’Donnell.

Her mother, Kerryn Robertson, said yesterday her daughter was too scared to get an intervention order.

“At one stage she got to the point of downloading an intervention order on the computer,” she told The Herald Sun. “But she was too scared to get one, and said it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

“She also believed that he could track her whereabouts, and believed she could not get away from him no matter where she went.’’

Rekiah with her mother and sister.

She said that said that Rekiah had told at least three doctors and a psychologist about the abuse and about Lai’s threats to kill her.


On the day of her funeral, her mother told The Herald Sun: “She hooked up with someone she thought she could help. Unfortunately that’s the reason we’re here today.

“Although we did everything in our power to keep Kiah away from her tormentor she had a mind of her own and in the end she sacrificed her life to try and save him,”

A friend who has written a blog about Ms O’Donnell writes:

 Kiah got to a point where she was able to travel and go overseas. Though whilst over there, it has been stated that she was still in contact with him without anyone really knowing.

She had developed so much secrecy that I think she got lost in it all.

She arrived back in Melbourne and things were quite up and down and eventually made the decision to get help. This was until she had told myself she had run into her now ex boyfriend and that all her hard work of escaping him had come undone. I am still unsure whether that statement of escaping him was true or whether she was talking to him the whole time.

Then came the time of October 11. A day that will haunt her family and friends for the rest of forever.

Rekiah had been seeing her ex partner again and on  this day, at around 9am, Rekiah was shot dead by her ex boyfriend.

She had experienced violence of all levels by her ex partner and this time it killed her.

As the verdict was read out in court yesterday the family of  Ms O’Donnell broke down.

This time it killer her. The coffin of Ms O’Donnell.

Rekiah’s 22-year old brother Jesse said not enough was done to protect and support victims of domestic abusers.

“Our justice system favours the guilty and forgets the victims,” he said.

“We need to spread the word about domestic violence. Not enough is being done.”

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

For more:

It’s an issue that rarely makes the front page. Today, it finally did.

Women victims blamed as ‘50% contributors’ to violence against them.

We’re not tackling domestic violence education in the classroom. But we need to be.

Enough talking – it’s time to act on domestic violence.