Rob Kidd is a NZME. News Service court reporter based in Auckland.

Taiaha killer appeals conviction

Steven Rakuraku is appealing his conviction for the murder of Hastings man Johnny Wright. File photo: Warren Buckland
Steven Rakuraku is appealing his conviction for the murder of Hastings man Johnny Wright. File photo: Warren Buckland

A man who killed a sickness beneficiary with a taiaha has had his appeal postponed because he turned up without a lawyer.

Steven Tiwini Rakuraku was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for the murder of Hastings man Johnny Charles Wright, 50, who disappeared on June 21, 2011.

He appeared by audio-visual link before the Court of Appeal in Auckland this morning to contest the convictions and sentence, representing himself as he did at his 2014 trial.

Johnny Wright was murdered in 2011.
Johnny Wright was murdered in 2011.

But he told Justices Anthony Randerson, Edwin Wylie and Peter Woodhouse he had applied for a legal-aid-funded lawyer and did not want to "waste the court's time" making his own submissions.

After an adjournment for the judges to check on his application, legal services confirmed there was nothing pending in the system.

Justice Randerson said Rakuraku had made such false claims in the past but adjourned the hearing until July.

"You're getting one more chance to get your house in order, he said.

"My whare will be in order," Rakuraku said.

The 41-year-old committed multiple crimes, involving four victims, in 2010 and 2011 throughout the Central North Island.

The victims included Mr Wright, a Rotorua man Rakuraku kidnapped, beat and forced to drive to Hawkes Bay, a Hastings man he befriended and assaulted to help evade police custody, and his former partner.

Mr Wright was bashed and Rakuraku "pelted" him with the Maori war weapon in a Hastings flat and later buried in a shallow grave near Eskdale, north of Napier.

A pathologist found Mr Wright's body had 36 rib fractures.

On August 26, 2011, Rakuraku's former partner "came clean" to police and led detectives to the grave.

The 40-year-old woman said she found Mr Wright dead on June 23, 2011.

The couple drove north, under Rakuraku's direction, before reaching the Napier-Taupo Rd and turning off on to a cycle trail.

"We pulled over to the side of the road. I was told to wait in the vehicle while Mr Rakuraku carried Johnny and buried his body."

Mr Wright's mother Nellie told the court she suffers sleepless nights thinking about the "horror of knowing the pain and suffering" her son endured.

"Johnny was loved by his family and friends. He gave you friendship and you repaid him by taking his life."

The family were tormented, knowing all they had left of their son, brother and uncle was a blanket, after Rakuraku sold or destroyed all of Mr Wright's possessions, she said.

Crown prosecutor Steve Manning said the long period of suffering Mr Wright endured was "indescribable" and "brutal".

"All murders are of course brutal, but this one particularly so -- the duration alone sets this case apart."

Rakuraku's appeal will be held next month.

- NZ Herald

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