Failed fugitive gets six months in prison

By Sam Hurley -
Travis John Rihia is taken to hospital after failing in his escape bid. Photo/File
Travis John Rihia is taken to hospital after failing in his escape bid. Photo/File

A booby-trapping Hawke's Bay man will spend six months behind bars after his escape from custody, the "shortest in New Zealand legal history", left him gasping for air.

Travis John Rihia, 31, appeared in the Napier District Court yesterday and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to escaping lawful custody, setting a mantrap and assault.

In February, the gang member made a dash for freedom by jumping from the dock in the Hastings District Court and bolting for the door, after his bail was declined.

Rihia landed on the press bench and ran towards the exit, with court security officers in pursuit, before succumbing to a medical episode. He was taken to hospital and later discharged into police custody.

Yesterday, a senior constable guarded a grinning Rihia as he stood in the dock, blocking any potential escape routes from the courtroom.

Rihia's lawyer Michael McAleer argued for a lesser sentence and said: "It was the shortest escape in New Zealand legal history.

He didn't even make it out the door.

"It wasn't a George Wilder escape," he said.

Mr McAleer added his client's mantrap, designed to give an electric shock to people who touched the front-door handle, was set up in a way "it couldn't have electrocuted anything".

"He did have the intention to electrify the door and that is the reason for the guilty plea."

Judge Jonathan Down said when giving his sentence that Rihia's booby trap was a "rather odd offence", while his escape from custody was a "pretty poor attempt".

"You were stopped before you reached the door but nevertheless you did escape."

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