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Leeton still shaken by teacher's murder

AAP logoAAP 14/10/2016 Miranda Forster

Life goes on in on in Leeton where bride-to-be Stephanie Scott was brutally murdered last year, but the NSW Riverina town is not the same.

The killer has been locked up for good but locals are still unnerved, still wary.

For some, including resident Mark Norvall, the small-town sense of security they once knew vanished when the 26-year-old teacher was attacked by school cleaner Vincent Stanford on Easter Sunday 2015.

"I brought my two girls up on my own in Leeton and it didn't worry me if they wanted to walk down the main street on their own," Mr Norvall said.

"They'd wander off no problem at all - never gave it a second thought.

"I wouldn't let them do that now."

It's a feeling "very much" shared by others in the southwest NSW farming and irrigation town, Mr Norvall said.

"Talking to young mums of kids now, they do not feel safe to leave their children anymore," he said.

"That's been taken away from them."

Stanford, 25, was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole on Thursday for his twisted and deadly assault of Ms Scott at Leeton High School.

In a horrendous crime that captured the attention of the nation, he grabbed the English and drama teacher when she was alone at the school preparing lessons before her wedding and honeymoon.

Stanford dragged his struggling victim into a storeroom and beat her unconscious, raped her, and stabbed her in the neck with a 40cm knife, according to agreed facts submitted in court.

He then set fire to her body in a national park 70km from Leeton, disposed of many of her belongings in garbage bins and sent other items including Ms Scott's rings and driver's licence to his identical twin brother Marcus in Adelaide.

He later told police the attack was unplanned. When he saw Ms Scott that day a feeling came over him "just that I had to kill her".

"I think I went a little nuts," he told detectives in a chilling video-recorded confession.

Ms Scott was killed six days before her wedding.

The case, according to seasoned Supreme Court judge Robert Allan Hulme, was clearly in the worst category.

"I am satisfied beyond any doubt that the offender's culpability is so extreme that the community interest ... can be met with only one response," he said before condemning Stanford to life behind bars.

Leeton, in the heart of the fertile NSW Riverina region, looks like any other sleepy rural town.

Wide, leafy streets lined with workers' cottages surround a main road that is the community's commercial hub.

It was into one of the more modest workers' cottages that the Tasmanian-born and Dutch-raised Vincent Stanford moved with his mother and older brother Luke in March 2014.

Soon after, the then-23-year-old loner began stalking a primary school girl, secretly filming her and taking hundreds of photos, according to the statement of facts.

The cleaner documented the girl's movements in an exercise book that also contained a list of stupefying drugs and the chilling entry: "Home alone 15.40. Time enough to abduct".

Stanford later told police he'd controlled his urge to abduct the girl.

But he admitted if he had kidnapped her, he probably would have killed her.

A supermarket worker and another teacher also caught the cleaner's eye, but it was the bubbly Ms Scott whom he would ultimately choose to fulfil his sick fantasies.

Six weeks before the attack he searched online for "bride rape" and related terms.

Stanford, who has autism, "regularly searched in relation to violent rape, violent sex, hard-core porn and murder".

He'd also ordered sex toys from the internet and handcuffs and a "half-sword" from a security company.

On the day he attacked Ms Scott, Stanford had a knife in his pocket, and handcuffs with his victim's blood on it were later found in his wardrobe.

It led to the sinister notion, Justice Hulme said, "that there was a lot more planning and premeditation than he is prepared to admit".

Mr Norvall welcomed Stanford's sentence and said it would help the town move forward.

"If he's taken off the streets forever, people will be able to move on a lot better," he said.

"That also sends out a message to anybody else who has similar thoughts: don't come here and do it."

Long-time Leeton resident and mayor Paul Maytom said that despite Ms Scott's tragic death, the 11,500-strong farming community was still a safe place to live.

Yet he conceded people have become more alert since the events of Easter 2015.

"The town is still the same town - it's still a very safe town to live in, and this was a one-off event," he said.

"But it makes people think more about what they do, there's no doubt about that."

Stanford's twin was released from a Riverina jail last month after being sentenced to 15 months for disposing of evidence.

Talking from a South Australian caravan park three weeks ago he apologised to the Scott family for his actions, something his callous brother has never done.

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