Jury fails to agree on jail bashing

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A High Court jury in Napier has been unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a prisoner alleged to have all but killed a fellow inmate in Hawke's Bay Prison.

The jury of seven men and five women, which started deliberating on Thursday afternoon, informed Justice Denis Clifford of its position a short while before 5pm yesterday, about 90 minutes after it had been given an option of deciding the case on a majority rather than unanimous verdict.

The victim, Jason James Poi, now 32 and from Napier, suffered a serious brain injury in a prison cell assault which lasted up to half an hour on the afternoon of March 21, 2015. He was carried out unconscious and was not able to walk, talk or do anything for himself again.

Before the court was 34-year-old Paka Junior Leota, of Auckland, who had pleaded not guilty to a charge of causing grievous bodily harm, while another inmate, convicted murderer and prison lifer Joseph Sam Samoa, 40, had previously pleaded guilty.

The Crown alleged the assault was sparked by the failure of a plan to use Mr Poi's partner and another woman to take drugs and other items into the prison on behalf of Leota and Samoa during a family day.

The Crown alleged CCTV footage showed Leota leading Mr Poi into the cell barely minutes after the family event finished. Samoa entered 12 seconds later and noises were heard, but, according to surveillance, it was not till 28 minutes later that he exited. By this time Poi was unconscious on the floor with the men wondering how to move him and avoid detection, Leota allegedly suggesting dumping him in a shower unit.

Another prison lifer was said to have intervened and carried the near lifeless Mr Poi to a guardhouse to get help.

Hastings barrister Bill Calver argued in his closing address that CCTV images seen in court did not establish Leota had entered the cell, and there was evidence he was on the phone in another part of the unit at a time of the assault.

The Crown is expected to consider another trial but no dates have been set.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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