Dudley family want manslaughter charges

After a Coroner’s Inquiry found that the primary cause of Stephen Dudley’s death was the brutal and unprovoked assault on him, his family is calling for manslaughter

RNZ: Dudley family seek manslaughter charges

The family of a West Auckland teenager who died after being attacked on a rugby pitch will seek manslaughter charges against his schoolmates, based on a new coroner’s report.

A coroner’s report found Stephen had an underlying heart problem and died when the stress of the assault induced a heart attack.

The 15-year-old had just finished rugby training when a teammate picked a fight. The teammate’s older brother then joined in, laying one hard punch to Stephen’s throat and more to his body.

Stephen collapsed on the field and despite CPR attempts by emergency services, he died in hospital less than two hours later.

The two brothers were charged with manslaughter but the charges were downgraded to assault after there was not enough evidence to connect the assault to the heart attack.

The boys were then discharged without conviction and with permanent name suppression.

However, coroner Gordon Matenga has accepted crown pathologist Paul Morrow’s evidence that the assault was the most significant factor leading to the heart attack.

The Dudley family said the coroner’s findings were vindicating but bittersweet.

The family felt robbed by their son’s premature death and wanted justice, their spokesperson Ruth Money said.

“We believe the appropriate charge is manslaughter, certainly against the eldest brother, who was very large when you compare the size of him and Stephen.”

“It was a very violent, very physical assault… that’s been backed up by the coroner’s findings.”

The family’s lawyer, Nikki Pender, said they were writing to the solicitor-general to seek manslaughter charges against the two brothers.

“Stephen was happy and healthy one minute, the physical assualt happens, and he collapses.”

I had wondered if it was possible to have new charges as it has already been dealt with by the Court. You can’t be tried for the same offence twice if there was a legal outcome of the first trial. Apparently it is possible.

There was no risk of double jeopardy – where someone cannot be tried for the same offence more than once – because the brothers were previously charged with assault, not manslaughter, Ms Pender said.

But one of the attacker’s lawyers claims too much uncertainty.

But the lawyer for one of the brothers, Ron Mansfield, said there was too much uncertainty over what was the key factor in Stephen’s death and a new trial was unlikely.

“We’re dealing with a criminal standard when looking at the culpability of a crime – the coroner’s not.”

“He’s looking for the cause of death… They are quite distinct.”

Assessing criminal conduct had already been done by people at a very senior level, involving specialists, Mr Mansfield said.

“The outcome was just and fair.”

It was wrong to see the brothers as villains, he said.

Many people, myself included, disagree that the brothers were not villians. They may not have intended to kill Dudley, but they recklessly attacked him and any normal person would know that that sort of thuggery could lead to grave consequences.

Moko’s killers get 17 years

Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, the two people responsible for killing Moko Rangitoheriri, were sentenced to 17 years in prison with non-parole periods of 9 years. This is the longest sentence given to people guilty of manslaughter of a child.

Over a period of two months, the pair kicked Moko, threw him, dropped him face first on the floor, bit and stomped on him and denied him medical treatment. He arrived at hospital with swelling to his face so bad it was impossible to open his eyes.

His abdomen was distended, he had bruising on his front and back, multiple abrasions and wounds that appeared to be human bite marks were found on his face and arms.

– Stuff EXPLAINER: Moko’s killers got manslaughter to eliminate ‘substantial risk’ of either walking free

This sounds like a fair sentence (as fair as you can be to child torturers). It’s as long as some murderers get. If they were given an unusually long sentence it would have raised the risks of the sentence being appealed and overturned or reduced.

The Police statement in reaction to Moko sentencing:

Police want to again extend their condolences and sympathy to the family of Moko Rangitoheriri, following the sentencing of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa this morning.  

Police also want to acknowledge the officers who worked on the investigation into Moko’s death. 

Any case involving a young and vulnerable victim like Moko is extremely difficult for all involved, and I would like to commend the officers involved for their diligence and professionalism.

Finally, Police ask that media continue to respect the privacy of Moko’s extended family.  We appreciate the ongoing public interest in this case, but attempts by media to contact the extended family, particularly vulnerable younger members, have caused a significant amount of distress to the family. 

And Attorney General Chris Finlayson explained the reasoning behind settling for manslaughter charges and not trying for murder – to make sure they got a conviction.


Statement on Moko case

Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson today set out the reasons for the Crown’s decision to accept the manslaughter pleas of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa in substitution of murder charges for the killing of Moko Rangitoheriri.

Ms Shailer and Mr Haerewa were today both sentenced to 17 years in prison, with a minimum non-parole period of nine years. Until that sentencing took place, the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General were unable to comment on the specifics of the case, as the sentencing was a matter for the courts.

“The Crown’s decisions in this case, including the decision to accept the manslaughter pleas, were motivated by the need to secure convictions for this horrendous killing and to avoid the significant risk that either of the defendants could escape such a conviction because of evidential issues,” Mr Finlayson said.

“The guilty pleas and admitted facts enabled the Crown to argue for a sentence which reflected the nature of the crimes committed. Without the guilty pleas, the full details of the facts set out in the Statement of Facts may not have otherwise come to light.

“The decision to accept a plea of manslaughter in substitution of a murder charge is never taken lightly. A robust process is followed which ultimately requires the approval of the Solicitor-General.

“The overarching consideration is whether the interests of justice are met in accepting the plea and in particular, whether the charge can adequately reflect the criminal nature of the conduct as well as allow sufficient scope for sentencing.

“Based on the evidence available for trial, there was a substantial risk that one or both of the defendants would not be convicted of the legal charge of murder or manslaughter.

“To prove the legal charge of murder in this case, the Crown was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Moko’s fatal injuries were inflicted with murderous intent.

“The Crown was confident that Ms Shailer was the principal offender and most likely directly responsible for Moko’s most serious injuries. The nature of Mr Haerewa’s involvement in Moko’s fatal injuries was less clear on the evidence available for trial.

“It was relevant to the likelihood of securing a murder conviction that the injuries Moko suffered were not inevitably fatal. With reasonably prompt medical treatment, he could have been saved.

“Let me be clear, this in no way reduces the seriousness of the abuse Moko suffered. It is, however, something the jury would have had to take into account when deciding if Ms Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries.

“If the jury was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries, then neither she nor Mr Haerewa could have been convicted of murder.

“Of course, the defendants also had a responsibility to obtain the medical treatment which would have saved Moko’s life. By failing to discharge this duty, they contributed to his death in addition to causing his fatal injuries.

“But the failure to discharge this duty could not in itself lead to a murder conviction for both defendants nor would a conviction for manslaughter based solely on this failure have adequately reflected the defendants’ role in inflicting the injuries which killed Moko.

“The Solicitor-General considered that accepting guilty pleas for manslaughter in substitution of murder charges meant that both Ms Shailer and Mr Haerewa:

  1. admitted responsibility for inflicting the injuries which killed Moko and their failure to obtain him lifesaving medical treatment; and
  2. could be given a sentence which reflected the serious nature of their crimes.

“Mr Haerewa admitted he had contributed to Moko’s death by encouraging and supporting Ms Shailer’s physical abuse. In the absence of his guilty plea, Mr Haerewa’s role in the violence that killed Moko may not have been adequately recognised in the ultimate outcome of a trial.

“The guilty pleas in this case also avoided exposing young and vulnerable children to the trauma of giving evidence including, for some, evidence against their parents.

“There has been significant public interest in this case and numerous statements have been made in the media about the charging of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa.

“The cost of prosecuting this trial was not a factor taken into account in approving the manslaughter charge. The public interest in prosecuting such serious crime would never take into account the financial cost of bringing a defendant to trial.

“Nor is plea bargaining a feature of the New Zealand justice system. Prosecutors cannot agree to a guilty plea based on the premise they will support a specific sentence.”

Notes for the editor:

The Attorney-General has overall responsibility to the citizens of New Zealand for prosecutions carried out by or on behalf of the Crown through Parliament.

In practice, however, the Attorney-General is not involved in individual criminal cases. These matters are formally delegated to the Solicitor-General to avoid any political interference, or appearance of political interference, in our criminal justice system.

As set out in section 185 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, the Solicitor-General is responsible for maintaining general oversight of the conduct of public prosecutions. As part of that role the Solicitor-General provides prosecution guidelines that all Crown Solicitors must adhere to.

In accordance with clause 18 of the guidelines, the Solicitor-General must approve all plea arrangements in relation to murder charges. Where a defendant indicates they will plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter, the Crown Solicitor is required to refer that offered plea to the Solicitor-General to approve the withdrawal of the murder charge in substitution for that of manslaughter.

The Crown Solicitor prepares a letter of advice for the Solicitor-General and forwards all relevant material from the trial file. Counsel within Crown Law prepare an initial opinion, which is then reviewed by senior Crown Counsel before final referral to the ultimate decision maker. The decision maker can be the Deputy Solicitor-General (Criminal) exercising the powers of the Solicitor-General, or the Solicitor-General her or himself.

Approval is only given after careful consideration of the factors detailed in the prosecution guidelines. The overarching consideration is whether the interests of justice are met and in particular:

  • whether the charge adequately reflects the essential criminality of the conduct; and
  • whether the charge provides sufficient scope for sentencing to reflect that criminality.

If a plea is accepted it is only on the basis that the factual basis for sentencing must outline in full the extent of the injury or damage suffered by the victim to ensure this can be reflected in sentencing.

 

Tania Shailer and David Haerewa sentencing

Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, the two people responsible for the awful ill treatment and death of Moko Rangitoheriri, were found guilty of manslaughter and will be sentenced in Rotorua this morning.

Manslaughter can involve a wide range of severity and sentences can range from slight through to a life sentence similar to murder.

Also today there will be a number of protests around the country.

Concerns have been raised about the charges being downgraded from murder to manslaughter, to which the two plead guilty, with accusations of what effectively amounted to plea bargaining.

I won’t make a judgement on that without knowing the facts.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson has said the decision to drop a murder charge was signed off by Solicitor-General Una Jagose and has called criticism of the plea deal criticism of the plea deal as “dangerous and ill-informed” but will explain further after the sentencing today.

Stuff reports Moko: Hit, kicked, thrown, bitten, stomped and smothered – but prosecutors can’t prove couple murdered the boy

The downgrading to manslaughter charges has outraged New Zealand and, in one of the most public displays of contempt of court in New Zealand history, thousands will march on the court houses across all across the country tomorrow. Marches have even been organised in Australia. 

Attorney General Chris Finlayson has slammed all criticism of the plea deal as “dangerous and ill-informed”. He will explain the decision “in words of one syllable” after tomorrow’s sentencing.

The Solicitor-General provides prosecution guidelines which Crown solicitors must follow, Finlayson says, the decision to drop a murder charge was signed off by Solicitor-General Una Jagose.

There will be a lot of interest in the sentence. Courts of New Zealand says this in the introduction to Sentencing:

Imposing a sentence (the punishment given to an offender) can be one of the most exacting tasks undertaken by a judge. By law sentences must reflect a number of considerations, some of which may be in conflict.[1] Some of the most important considerations are:

  • the seriousness of the offending
  • the interests of the victim
  • consistency with sentences imposed for similar offending
  • the personal circumstances of the offender

On manslaughter sentencing:

There are some offences for which the Court of Appeal has considered it inappropriate to prescribe a sentencing range.

One example of this is manslaughter – the maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment. The worst cases of manslaughter are near to murder and can attract very severe sentences of imprisonment.

But a conviction for manslaughter may also result where someone causes the death of another person by accident, without intending any harm, meaning that sentence of imprisonment may be inappropriate.

Given the wide range of circumstances that can all fall within “manslaughter”, it is not possible to provide a single guideline that addresses all cases.

In sentencing for manslaughter Judges take guidance instead from earlier cases involving manslaughter of a generally similar kind.

Without knowing all the details of the obviously horrific treatment of Moko that resulted in his death, this crime must rate near or at the higher end of the scale of severity.