Guilty verdict in Far North manslaughter trial

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Photo / File
Photo / File

A Far North man has been found guilty of causing the death of one of his relatives.

In the High Court at Whangarei today, Gene Autrey Wright, 32, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Sonny Werahiko Taylor, on July 11, 2011.

Wright was related to Mr Taylor, who had tried to chop the legs off a pataka - or food store - at an Oturu Block Rd farm, north of Kaitaia, the previous night.

On July 10, 2011, Wright's grandfather John Wright struck Mr Taylor with a rake - causing its handle to break twice - after Mr Taylor had taken a chainsaw to the pataka.

The Crown alleged an angry Gene Wright drove up the farm and beat Mr Taylor up the next morning, which resulted in his death.

The defence had argued it was possible that injuries from the rake attack may have caused Mr Taylor's death, and that Wright should therefore be acquitted.

On the trial's final day of evidence yesterday, retired professor of forensic pathology James Ferris was called as the last defence witness. He said it was difficult to say whether Mr Taylor died from injuries received from the rake or those allegedly inflicted on the day he died.

Professor Ferris said the principal injury had been a gradual formation of a large pool of blood that compressed the victim's brain.

Defence lawyer Doug Blaikie said there was some evidence that Mr Taylor was feeling unwell before Wright drove up to the farm.

Professor Ferris said that could be evidence of a developing subdural haematoma, but he could not be sure what caused it.

On whether there was any evidence that the death was as a result of severe beating, he said that possibility was excluded.

Crown prosecutor Bernadette O'Connor told the jury in her closing address that Wright's actions were not in self-defence but that he had wanted to deal with Mr Taylor once and for all.

She said Mr Taylor suffered a number of bruises of up to 9cm on his body but none had been consistent with a rake to the head or scalp.

"There's no evidence that Sonny Taylor fell over and hit his head. The evidence firmly establishes that [Gene Wright] beat Sonny. He got a real beating," she said.

Mr Blaikie said his client acted in self-defence after Mr Taylor was armed with a machete.

Mr Taylor, he submitted, had been jailed in Australia for violence against his partner, he blazed off with his slug gun and not only did he cut the pataka with a chainsaw but made advances towards John Wright and his partner, who were scared for their lives.

Justice Sarah Katz summed up this morning before instructing the jury to retire to consider its verdict.

Wright will be sentenced in Whangarei in April.

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