A man whose body was found buried in a shallow grave months after he disappeared was bashed to death with a Maori war weapon, a court has been told.

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

Police acted on information that led to a search of a rural property near Eskdale two months later, when Mr Wright's body was discovered in a shallow grave.

Steven Tiwini Rakuraku, 39, who lost name suppression yesterday in the High Court at Napier, is on trial and facing 12 charges, including the kidnapping and murder of Mr Wright.


Yesterday morning, Rakuraku fired his lawyer, Russell Fairbrother QC, and is now representing himself. He denies all the charges against him.

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.

"He had 36 rib fractures. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there are 24 ribs in the human body," Mr Manning said.


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

"He had fractures to his chest which essentially made it impossible to breathe. That is what he died of. It would have been extremely painful as the ends of the ribs were rubbing together ... there was significant blood loss and he was starved of oxygen."

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 to remove the traces of blood and evidence.

Mr Manning said the alleged offending took place over a 7-8 month span in 2010 and 2011 across the Central North Island and involved four victims, including Mr Wright.

"Each of the four were unknown to Mr Rakuraku and to each other, but they did have one thing in common. The manner in which they were treated, dominated, manipulated, controlled, intimidated and beaten, all four of them, one of them to the point that he died."

In Rakuraku's opening address, after changing into a collared shirt and fixing his hair during the lunch adjournment, he told the jury members they would "decide my guilt or innocence".

"In my eyes this job is the hardest you will ever have to do. You have to become lie detectors and truth detectors."

He said he was "born and bred" in Napier and attended William Colenso College.

Mr Manning said Rakuraku was "driven by three things" that led to his alleged offending: paranoia, avoiding police custody, after a warrant for his arrest in February 2011, and needing money and a "safe house". The trial is scheduled to last several weeks and continues today.