Murder trial put on hold

By Mike Dinsdale

A Whangarei man accused of murdering his girlfriend is unfit to stand trial at this stage because of head injuries received in an alleged prison assault, the High Court has heard.

Jimmy Peter Akuhata, 29, has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend Ashlee Edwards on July 27, 2012. The body of the 21-year-old mother-of-two was found under the Tarewa Rd bridge and Akuhata was later charged with her murder.

His case was called in the High Court at Whangarei yesterday before Justice Paul Heath who said as a result of head injuries received Akuhata had been declared unfit to plead to the charge or stand trial.

However, a psychologist's report found there is room for some improvement in Akuhata's condition and he may be able to plead and stand trial in the future, although progress so far has been slow.

The matter has been put off until September 19 for progress to be monitored and Justice Heath has ordered that two more reports on Akuhata's condition be prepared and presented to the court before October 25.

Hearings under the Criminal Procedure and mentally Impaired Persons Act on Akuhata's fitness to stand trial will then likely be heard in the High Court on November 13, if time permits.

It was not mentioned in court where the incident took place but the Advocate understands it was while he was in custody at prison in Auckland.

The situation has led to a further delay in a trial date being set for the murder charge to be heard, frustrating Ashlee's mum Karen Edwards.

Mrs Edwards said each court appearance, and subsequent delay led to more anguish for her and the family.

"The delays are hard and lead to more anxiety for us, and there's been a lot for us. It just seems delay after delay," she said.

"But at the end of the day that's the way this thing goes and we just have to wait."

On July 23 about 50 family members and friends of Ashlee gathered at the bridge where her body was found to commemorate the first anniversary of her death. Among those carrying the strong anti-family violence theme of the ceremony near the bridge were representatives from Whangarei Women's Refuge and a Ngati Hine organisation in which Ashlee was involved protecting young mothers from domestic violence.

- Northern Advocate

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