Gang culture was implicated in the "callous, unadulterated' abuse of a 2-year-old boy who almost died after he was bashed about the head and fed dog faeces by a man who yesterday received a 10-year jail sentence for the crime.
Harley Mac Wharewera, 19, stood with his head bowed and his back to the public gallery during the sentencing at the Whakatane District Court, after earlier admitting four charges related to the abuse of the boy for seven weeks this year.
The sentencing took place amid a heavy police presence, with seven uniformed officers and several plainclothes police in the courtroom.
Judge Peter Rollo sentenced Wharewera to 10 years for the most serious charge, causing grievous bodily harm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
The crown had requested the maximum penalty of 14 years, but the judge took into account expressions of remorse and an early guilty plea by Wharewera.
A plea from Wharewera's lawyer for less than the maximum based on the defendant's age was accepted.
Wharewera was given a sentence of four years for wilful ill-treatment of a child, a charge he faced jointly with Kane Jeremy Tawa, and lesser terms for injuring with intent, and a second joint charge with Tawa of assault of a child.
The sentences are to be served concurrently with a minimum non-parole period of five years, six months.
Tawa, 23, was to be sentenced yesterday but will now appear on November 24.
The court heard how Wharewera and Tawa, both aligned to a chapter of the Black Power gang, subjected the toddler to frequent abuse while boarding with him and his mother in Whakatane.
Wharewera was responsible for a beating on September 21 which left the child with severe head injuries.
A senior paediatrician at Whakatane District Hospital, where he was treated, said the boy was lucky to survive.
He was said to be making a good recovery from his physical injuries and is in the care of Child, Youth and Family.
Judge Rollo said Wharewera's connections to Black Power had played a part in his offending.
"To slam, tackle, whip, kick and humiliate [the boy], there was an element of gang culture."
He said the abuse, which included two incidents in which Wharewera force-fed the boy dog faeces, showed total disregard for the child's health and dignity as a human being.
"What you did in the totality was callous, unadulterated cruelty to this child," he said.
He called Wharewera "a despicable, violent bully" whose actions had "an absolute lack of compassionate human feeling about them".
The Crown, represented by Duncan McWilliam, said the abuse was at the highest end of the scale.
"This child was being treated as an object, not a human."
Wharewera's use of a roll of wallpaper to beat the boy around the head was akin to using a club, he said and made his point by holding a roll and banging it on a table.
He rejected a suggestion that beatings Wharewera had suffered partially explained his behaviour.
"People who have been in that situation ought to know better. They are in a position to break the cycle of violence."
Wharewera's lawyer, Vinay Deobhakta, said his client accepted the offending was in the most serious category and had pleaded guilty immediately after seeing photos of the injured boy.
Mr Deobhakta submitted that drugs, particularly the "odious" methamphetamine, had influenced Wharewera, saying they had been part of his life since he dropped out of school at age 13. "He's essentially a 19-year-old drug addict," he said
Mr Deobhakta said Wharewera had also been a victim of violence. "He too was frequently beaten with sticks and frying pans."
He pointed out that others had witnessed or suspected the abuse of the toddler but failed to act.
If any good was to come of the case, it was that people would realise the need to come forward.
Both he and Mr McWilliam referred to a report by Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro about New Zealand's high rate of child abuse.
The boy's mother is to appear in court later this month charged with permitting the wilful ill-treatment of a child.
The case follows the conviction of an Auckland couple last month for an attack that left their 4-month-old baby with multiple skull fractures and other injuries.
They were jailed for seven years.
In September, a Tauranga mother received a six-year sentence for abusing her baby which is unable to walk or sit up and is fed through a tube.
By Juliet Rowan Email Juliet