Murder victim suffered 36 rib fractures, court told

By Sam Hurley -
Murder victim Johnny Wright.
Murder victim Johnny Wright.

A man whose body was found buried in a shallow grave months after he disappeared was bashed with a taiaha, a court has been told.

Hastings man Johnny Charles Wright, 50, disappeared on June 21, 2011.

A tip-off led to a search of a rural property near Eskdale two months later, where Mr Wright's body was discovered in a shallow grave.

Steven Tiwini Rakuraku, 39, who lost name suppression this morning in the High Court at Napier, is on trial accused of kidnapping and murdering Mr Wright.

This morning, Rakuraku fired his lawyer Russell Fairbrother and is representing himself.

However, Justice Joe Williams appointed an amicus (friend of the court), and to preserve the integrity of the trial Mr Fairbrother will cross-examine the Crown witnesses instead of Rakuraku.

Crown prosecutor Steve Manning told the jury that Mr Wright was a "much loved son, uncle and brother" who had a family that kept in contact with him regularly.

"[Johnny] was quiet, shy and someone who kept to himself which made him particularly vulnerable and unable to stand up to Mr Rakuraku."

He said Mr Wright had been taken against his will and severely beaten as Rakuraku used the 50-year-old and his finances to ensure his safety and freedom from police.

"[Rakuraku] controlled where he slept, what he ate, when he ate, whether he exercised and when he went to the toilet."

He said when Mr Wright's body was found, a pathologist determined he did not die a natural death.

Rakuraku used a taiaha, or Maori war club, to beat Mr Wright which resulted in some of his critical injuries, Mr Manning said.

He described one occasion when Mr Wright's father, who was searching for his missing son, visited the Hastings flat where he lived but was told by Rakuraku he was working then sent away.

"Johnny was in the house suffering from his injuries," Mr Manning said.

He said that after Rakuraku killed Mr Wright he painted the inside of the flat and wiped it down with bleach in a bid to remove the traces of blood and evidence.

Rakuraku told the court the only reason he was defending himself was because of a funding issue with his defence counsel.

The trial continues.

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