Steven Rakuraku fails in attempt to appeal life sentence

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Steven Rakuraku was convicted in 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Hastings man Johnny Wright.
Steven Rakuraku was convicted in 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Hastings man Johnny Wright.

The family of a Hastings man bashed to death with a taiaha are delighted his killer's appeal has been kicked out.

The Court of Appeal yesterday released its decision to dismiss Steven Rakuraku's attempts to fight his murder conviction and life sentence, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years, for killing Johnny Wright.

Johnny Wright was fatally assaulted in 2011.
Johnny Wright was fatally assaulted in 2011.

Mr Wright, 50, was killed in 2011, and his body buried in a shallow grave near Eskdale, north of Napier.

His brother Paul Wright said it was a huge relief for the whole family that the appeals won't be going ahead.

He said the family wanted to start rebuilding their lives, and are glad it's over and done with. He hoped Rakuraku would now do the right thing and serve his full sentence.

The kidnapping and murder of Mr Wright was one of several crimes he committed across the North Island.

The 40-year-old, who defended himself during his original High Court trial, claimed he was not the "monster" the prosecution made him out to be but a man who would perform tai chi and yoga religiously.

However, the evidence against him showed a physically strong, intelligent but manipulative man, capable of "great cruelty".

Mr Wright vanished on June 21, 2011, and the case quickly went cold as detectives struggled to locate a body.

But a witness to the horrific murder, Rakuraku's partner, who was a victim herself, came clean and led police to the grave on Waipunga Rd two months later.

Crown prosecutor Steve Manning said the entire case, and the actions of those involved, were surrounded and categorised by one word.

"The word is fear," he said during his closing submissions.

"If you think about this case, fear runs through it until the end.

"The whole narrative begins because Mr Rakuraku was fearful of the police. He then sought to survive by using other people, and the tool he used was fear."

He chose people who were vulnerable, weaker and smaller than him when committing his crimes against four victims in 2010 and 2011.

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

During the trial Mr Wright's father, Charles Wright, said he had the "last opportunity to see his son alive" as he searched for his missing boy.

He visited the Hastings home where he suspected his son might be but Rakuraku told him to leave, knowing he had Mr Wright as his prisoner in the home.

Expert medical witnesses also made it "crystal clear" to the jury that Mr Wright had died as a direct result of the 36 rib fractures, some caused by Rakuraku beating him with a taiaha.

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