Son's final words recalled

By Sam Hurley

Murder accused Steven Rakuraku tries to hide his face from cameras before representing himself in court. Photo / Paul Taylor
Murder accused Steven Rakuraku tries to hide his face from cameras before representing himself in court. Photo / Paul Taylor

"Don't worry about me, Mum, I'm all right. I love you," were a son's last words to his mother, who gave evidence against the man accused of kidnapping and murdering her eldest son.

Steven Tiwini Rakuraku, 39, is facing 12 charges, including kidnapping and murdering Hastings man Johnny Charles Wright, 50, who disappeared on June 21, 2011.

Mr Wright's body was found in a shallow grave after police acted on information when Rakuraku's partner "came clean", leading detectives to search a rural property near Eskdale two months after his disappearance. Rakuraku denies all the charges against him.

Mr Wright's elderly mother, Nellie Wright , took the witness stand yesterday, but was shielded from Rakuraku, who was behind a screen. Mr Wright's father, Charles Wright , also gave evidence yesterday.

Justice Joe Williams said Rakuraku was hidden from Mr Wright's parents to "limit the stress" on them.

Mrs Wright said of her son, "He was very gentle. If anyone needed help or support he was always there for people. He was just always a very gentle, caring person."

Charles Wright said he and his wife had gone to Johnny's Warwick Rd, Hastings, flat when they became concerned about his behaviour after helping him with a car breakdown in Central Hawke's Bay.

He said his son's flat was "a bit strange" because the bedroom window was wide open, and the curtain was dragged outside but nobody was home.

Later at a Caroline Rd address known to his son, Charles Wright was greeted by a "big Maori chap" with a "pony tail" who acknowledged he knew Johnny but didn't know where he was.

Shortly after Johnny had phoned his mother and said: "Don't worry about me, Mum, I'm all right. I love you."

The worried parents had returned to the Caroline Rd house after not hearing from their son for "some weeks". "I tried the front door but there was no response," Charles Wright said.

"I went down an alleyway to the back, but there was this big door in the way blocking the path.

"Then this big Maori guy came out. It was the same guy I had seen before.

"He said he hadn't seen [Johnny] but people had come around looking for him."

Charles Wright told the man he was going to report the disappearance to police.

"I wouldn't be bothered doing that. He'll show up," the Maori man had said.

The court was later played recordings of two phone conversations allegedly between Johnny Wright and Work and Income (Winz) on May 9, 2011, and June 20, 2011.

Charles Wright confirmed the May conversation included his son's voice but said an impersonator was using his name during the June phone call.

"No, no, no, that's not him. That's not Johnny," he said.

Rakuraku is representing himself in the High Court at Napier after he fired his lawyer, Russell Fairbrother QC, on Wednesday .

However, Justice Williams appointed an amicus curiae (friend of the court), consisting of Mr Fairbrother and co-counsel Leo Lafferty.

Mr Fairbrother will cross-examine Crown witnesses who are also complainants, while the murder accused is permitted to cross-exam the other Crown witnesses, except John Wright's parents.

The Crown's prosecution is led by Steve Manning and Jo Reilly .

Earlier in the day Rakuraku asked a witness if he "had any trauma by giving your evidence here today".

"Does it bother you? Are you scared?" Rakuraku asked, to which the witness replied, "No."

The witness was a friend and workmate of Johnny Wright and had early given testimony about an "uneasy" and "intimidating" visit to Mr Wright's flat.

He said he had met a Maori man, known as "Junior", and a woman at the home, which had all the curtains closed.

"I went home and told my partner, 'There's something wrong there'."

Another witness described watching Rakuraku give Mr Wright "a hiding" in the weeks leading to his death.

The 62-year-old witness, who has one eye and a crushed hand from workplace accidents, was also beaten several times by Rakuraku in 2011, after the murder accused arrived at his home looking for a "safe house", and claiming to be a family member.

"He was on the run ... He got more demanding. He sort of wanted to run my life for me - I had no choice," the 62-year-old said.

Rakuraku had control over his finances and phone and would beat him across the head, the man said.

He said he was threatened by Rakuraku who also allegedly said, "I'll take the other eye out," and, "You've only got one hand. I'll cripple you."

He said he witnessed Mr Wright receive a "hiding" from Rakuraku in the back yard of the Warwick Rd home.

"[Rakuraku] just lost the plot. He smashed Johnny and pushed him up against the wall. I think Johnny fell and that's when he put the boot in - kicked him in the ribs."

He said he believed Johnny's flat was also being used as a safe house.

The 62-year-old said he escaped Rakuraku's control after he was admitted to hospital following an accident on his bike and fled the situation with the help of his employer.

The trial continues today.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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