A 17-year-old boy who used horrific levels of violence to kill a schoolgirl before dumping her body on a park bench has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 19 years.
The youth, who cannot be named because of his age, was convicted unanimously of murdering Viktorija Sokolova by a jury at Wolverhampton Crown Court in December.
He was cleared of sexual penetration of a corpse after the court heard it wasn’t precisely clear when the 14-year-old had died.
The hammer he used to launch a “ferocious and sustained” attack on Viktorija, who suffered a fractured skull and spine, has never been found.
A three-week trial was told the Lithuanian-born teen was lured to Wolverhampton’s West Park late on 11 April after being contacted by her killer on Facebook Messenger.
Her partially-clothed body was found at around 7am on 12 April, arranged in a kneeling position on a park bench near a pavilion known as Black House. Beneath the bench lay two of her teeth, as well as her Nike baseball cap and an earring.
Dog-walker Daniel Squire said at first he had thought the body was a blow-up doll and had been placed there as part of a prank.
Viktorija was struck at least 21 times and had been dragged 150 metres across the park.
Her underwear and jeans were found dumped in a park bin and her mobile phone and pink ankle boots were discovered by a boating lake.
Ahead of the killing, the youth was caught on CCTV walking in the direction of the park at the time he was exchanging Facebook messages with his victim saying he was on his way. The footage also showed him wearing a pair of Adidas Gazelle shoes – which matched footprints found near her body.
Further evidence presented at the trial showed the boy was carrying a backpack, and had changed his trousers while in the park between 10.44pm on 11 April and 12.44am on 12 April.
The boy, who refused to give evidence, claimed to be suffering from learning difficulties, and initially denied even meeting Viktorija.
He later told police that his Facebook account had been hacked – before changing his story and claiming consensual sex had taken place at the park, where he had left Viktorija unharmed. The court heard the pair had been friends in the past but had drifted apart until he sent her a message days before the murder.
They exchanged selfies and the youth sent her a video of himself, bare-chested and lifting weights, hours before her death. He invited her to the park to smoke cannabis and encouraged her to sneak out of the home she shared with her family.
Ahead of the discovery of Viktorija’s body, the teenager deleted all messages between himself and the victim, concealed the mobile phone he used to contact her behind a wardrobe at his home address and researched how to permanently delete a Facebook account from an iPhone.
Detectives said the boy had never been in trouble with police before, but had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was under the care of adolescent mental health services.
Describing Viktorija’s injuries, prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC told the jury of eight women and four men: “The post-mortem examination of her body revealed that she had been subjected to a sustained and ferocious attack to the head, which involved a minimum of 21 blows.
“The force of the attack was such that it caused multiple fractures of the underlying skullcap and her facial skeleton.
“In short, to put it into lay-person’s terms, her head had been smashed in.”
Remembered as a passionate dancer by her teachers, Viktorija and her family had moved to the UK from Lithuania in 2011.
The trial was told that Viktorija had a turbulent relationship with her parents. In the months before her death, she had been reported to police as a missing person after spending time away from home, staying at friends’ homes.
The couple had been called to give evidence after jurors heard that microscopic traces of her stepfather’s semen were found on Viktorija’s underwear, believed to be from innocent transfer from clothing to clothing.
Her mother and stepfather Karolina Valantiniene and Saidas Valantinas, who had reported her missing, were eliminated from the inquiry at an early stage using CCTV footage.