16 September 2002
The child who shocked a nation by helping to kill a delivery man for pizza and a few dollars was smart with an air of confidence but driven by a need to impress others. That was the assessment of Justice Robert Fisher in the High Court at Auckland yesterday.
In sentencing Bailey Junior Kurariki to seven years' jail for manslaughter, the judge offered his own verdict on what could drive a boy of 12 to kill. Justice Fisher said Kurariki, now 13, was very much a child, a boy of low self-esteem, driven by a need to impress those older than himself.
Last September 12, he acted as a decoy and gave the signal for Alex Peihopa to leap out and hit pizza delivery man Michael Choy.
Justice Fisher said psychologists had found Kurariki to have average to high intelligence, although he had poor verbal skills due to his lack of schooling. The judge said Kurariki could not escape responsibility for what he had done - despite his youth.
Kurariki was sentenced with five other youths, none older than 17, after a five-week trial. Most of the attention has focused on Kurariki, the youngest person in New Zealand to be convicted of manslaughter.
Justice Fisher said the pre-sentence report showed some favourable things about Kurariki - in contrast with the "unauthorised public statements by disloyal staff" at the Kingslea Residential Centre in Christchurch.
It was a shame, the judge said, that Kurariki continued to deny the critical facts. He clearly knew the delivery driver would be assaulted.
More than 100 people packed the court for the sentencing, including 30 friends and family of Mr Choy. At least 50 others were there to support the prisoners. Outside the court, Mr Choy's mother, Rita Croskery, said she was pleasantly surprised at the seven-year sentence for Kurariki. The youngster had seemed to her, too, as intelligent. He was a boy who knew what he was doing. She had some sympathy for the families of the prisoners. But she could not bring herself to talk to those families.
Mr Choy's stepfather, Kenneth Croskery, said a year of his family's life had been devastated. The Croskerys said they would not be surprised if the prisoners appealed. The trial had already cost $3 million, and the lawyers wanted more. Mr Croskery said: "I think if they get their sentences shortened then it's a mistake. There's plenty of apprentices out there and they need to be sent a message."
Detective Senior Sergeant Geoff Jago said the trial had been long and difficult for families on both sides. When asked how such young people could kill, Mr Jago said it was a case of bored young people on the streets wanting food and cash. The solution "has to start in the home. The community can't be held responsible all the time".
Kurariki's home life was troubled. His mother, Lorraine West, said she felt she had failed her son. She had never beaten him - "maybe I should have done". Asked if she was a good mother, she said: "I wouldn't say excellent - but I did the best I could."
At the sentencing, Justice Fisher said the killing was aggravated by Mr Choy having been lured into a trap. Other aggravating features were the intention to use violence, and the high degree of planning.
Justice Fisher said that there had been a "callous failure" to seek medical help for the injured man. Even an anonymous call to the police would have given him a chance of survival. As it was, Mr Choy struggled around for a couple of hours before collapsing at the back door of his father's home in nearby Settlement Rd. En route Peihopa and Casie Rawiri, 21, "callously" stole the injured man's money belt when it must have been obvious that he needed medical assistance.
Before the trial, Casie Rawiri admitted an attempted robbery of a KFC worker and stealing from Mr Choy. The judge jailed her for 4 1/2 years, describing her as a "vulture scavenging on the injured prey of others".
He accepted a submission from Peihopa's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, that young people might seriously underestimate the effects of knocking someone unconscious, due to the way violence was portrayed in the entertainment media. The judge said that the daily use of drugs and alcohol among the group had been a factor. It was important that they should not emerge from prison more hardened criminals than when they went in.
He urged the prison authorities to make educational and rehabilitation programmes available and keep the younger ones separate from adult prisoners for as long as possible.
Justice Fisher told the group it would be too easy for them to blame everyone other than themselves.
Christopher Harder, representing Whatarangi Rawiri, said she intended doing a degree in social work, to redeem herself by spending the rest of her days caring for others. Her mother had also provided $2000 as a token to help meet some of the Choy family's expenses.
By TONY STICKLEY AND SCOTT MacLEOD