They'd had a night out drinking and had just been dropped off by a taxi as they stumbled along Fairy Springs Rd to their home. But a teen armed with a firearm driving past thought he saw otherwise. Kelly Makiha reports how the night ended and why it's changed all of their lives forever.
A 17-year-old shot a random stranger - blowing apart a man's leg - because he thought he was having a fight with his partner on the side of the road.
But the innocent member of the public and his girlfriend were simply stumbling home after a night out drinking in Rotorua.
The teen has now been jailed for two years and five months for what a judge has described as "extreme violence" that has left a member of the public crippled with life-long breathing difficulties and mental trauma.
The teen, who is now aged 19, appeared in the Rotorua District Court yesterday for sentencing after pleading guilty to charges of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and unlawful possession of a firearm.
The teen can't be named after his lawyer, James Olsen, applied for name suppression.
Judge Eddie Paul refused the application but Olsen appealed, which by law means he can't be named until an appeal is heard. Crown solicitor Amanda Gordon said Olsen was right despite the fact it was "ludicrous" given there were no grounds to meet any requirements to grant suppression.
In granting name suppression until the appeal, Judge Paul said: "I'm simply a servant of the law."
The shooting happened in the early hours of September 27, 2020 on Fairy Springs Rd near the intersection with Amokura St.
The couple had been dropped off by a taxi after a night out drinking. The man was helping his partner to walk and at one point she fell to the ground. The man tried to help her to her feet.
The teen was a passenger in a car driving past and had in his possession a firearm he had found at a tangi that day.
He saw the couple on the roadside and thought the man was leaning over the woman beating her up. The teen told the driver to pull over and he approached the man, asking him if he was beating the woman.
When the man replied "no, bro", the teen pushed the man. The man pushed the teen back and the teen retaliated by pulling out a loaded firearm and shooting the man in the leg.
Judge Paul said the man came close to dying, spent three weeks in hospital, months unable to walk, had to undergo three surgeries and had ongoing respiratory issues caused by a blood clot in his lung. He also now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Reading from a victim impact statement, Judge Paul said the man's partner said: "Life has changed forever."
"His partner says this: 'Our focus has always been to heal, heal the physical and emotional wound which have been a battle for both. Even though there have been times you think you'll never make it through and even though we are at a point where there is some normality to life as we knew it, it will never be the same. The total cost to our lives will never be known.'"
The man's partner said in her victim impact statement she was less trusting of certain people and unfortunately now stereotyped a certain group, despite feeling bad that they might be good people.
Judge Paul told the teen at sentencing there was no excuse for shooting an unarmed person who didn't know he was carrying a gun.
"That is wrong and at the very least cowardly."
Judge Paul said the victim and his partner were entitled to walk home safely after a night out.
He said the teen was entitled to make inquiries about what he thought he saw but it should have been obvious there was nothing untoward happening.
"Despite that [the teen's] response was to gratuitously, with no provocation, shoot this innocent member of the public in the leg causing lifelong injury which was at the time and documented life-threatening."
Pre-sentence reports on the teen showed he had a violent upbringing, abused substances and alcohol, was surrounded by gang culture and was culturally disconnected.
He was prone to reacting violently to perceived threats and when under the influence of alcohol.
Judge Paul said it was of concern the teen was assessed as being a moderate risk for future serious violent offending.
Olsen, who had asked the judge to consider a community-based sentence given the teen's age, told Judge Paul he intended to appeal the sentence and asked Judge Paul to consider granting the teen bail until that appeal was heard.
Judge Paul refused bail saying the teen had been on notice for more than a year of the likely sentencing outcome and it was time he started his sentence given the seriousness of the offending.