Concern after juror approached

By Imran Ali

A Whangarei man who approached a juror outside court and passed a comment has been acquitted after a judge ruled the intention of what he said was unclear.

Leonard Mahanga, 43, was charged with perverting the course of justice after his alleged conduct outside the Whangarei District Court which left the juror feeling intimidated.

He chose a judge-alone trial and successfully defended the charge in Whangarei District Court last week.

Crown prosecutor Todd Nicholls told Judge Duncan Harvey that on February 20, Mahanga was in court to support his niece Gina Mahanga who was on trial on a charge of injuring with intent to injure.

Mahanga was observed making gestures from the public gallery during the trial.

After the lunch adjournment when the juror was on her way back to court, he said Mahanga approached her and said: "Aunty, my niece is innocent."

At that point, Judge Harvey warned Mahanga not to make any comments or to shake his head while evidence was being given.

Mr Nicholls said the juror informed the foreperson in the jury panel later that afternoon but the matter was not brought to the attention of trial judge John McDonald the next morning.

His first witness on Friday was the juror, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

She said Mahanga's comments made her feel intimidated because she'd never been approached outside court during her previous jury service.

Mahanga was sitting on the rails at the entrance to court and as she approached, he jumped off and came towards her before uttering his comment, she said.

After his comment, the juror said she said "kia ora" and continued walking in to the court.

Earlier that morning, she saw Mahanga shaking and nodding his head during the trial but did not take much notice.

Although she did not know Mahanga, she said the Mahangas were related to her late partner.

Before the trial, Mahanga's lawyer Kelly Ellis asked the court to excuse her from representing him as she could not get proper instructions from him.

But after a brief adjournment, she said all matters had been amicably resolved.

- Northern Advocate

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