Fatal car crash trial: Mother found not guilty

By NZ Herald staff

The scene of the crash. File photo / John Borren
The scene of the crash. File photo / John Borren

A man and a woman have been found not guilty of manslaughter after a high-speed crash near Tauranga in 2011 that left two teenage sisters dead.

Phillippa Vanessa Morehu, 37, who is the girls' mother, and one of their cousins, Haki Tetuere Davey, 18, were acquitted by a jury in the High Court at Hamilton this afternoon over the Christmas Day crash.

The Crown alleged that Ms Morehu, Mr Davey and another of the dead girls' cousins, Hetaraka Hikurangi Reihana, 21, were racing at speeds of up to 140km/h before the crash on Welcome Bay Rd.

They each faced two charges of manslaughter after the deaths of Brooklyn, 13, and Merepeka, 14. Reihana changed his pleas to guilty yesterday.

The public gallery was packed with friends and relatives as the verdicts were read out this afternoon.

Somebody yelled out "Love you my brother, can't wait to see you,'' to Mr Davey as he was led from the dock.

Ms Morehu was supported by several young women as she left the court room.

She refused to speak outside as she was led to her car.

The jury took only a matter of hours to reach the not guilty verdicts.

Yesterday in a surprise change of plea, Hetaraka Reihana called out "guilty" before the registrar of the court could finish reading each of the charges laid against him.

The Crown's argument was that the trio had been drinking before they were involved in a race in which Reihana lost control of the vehicle he was driving and crashed into an oncoming ute driven by Brett McCready.

Reihana's lawyer, Panama Le'au'anae, told the court yesterday the guilty plea had come "at a very late stage" but the accused had now accepted responsibility for his actions.

Rerihana will be sentenced on May 31.

Crown prosecutor Greg Hollister-Jones claimed Reihana was not acting on his own. He said Morehu held influence over both Reihana and Davey as their aunt and set the pace in a race to the family urupa (graveyard).

Davey's lawyer, Paul Mabey QC, said there was no evidence to show that his client was racing either Morehu or Reihana to get to the urupa first.

Morehu's lawyer, Glen Dixon, said there was insufficient evidence to suggest she was party to a conversation about a race or that she encouraged one.

- NZ Herald

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