How the body of Flaxmere toddler Matiu Wereta came to receive bite marks, bruises and a fatal head injury was the subject of a High Court trial at Napier in February this year.

The two-and-a-half-year-old was attacked by his stepfather of several months, Tamehana Huata, at his home on the morning of October 2, 2015.

After a two-week trial in the High Court at Napier the teenager, who was 17 years old at the time of the incident, was found guilty of manslaughter and injuring with intent to injure.

The following month he was sentenced to seven and a half years' imprisonment. Huata was entrusted to care for Matiu, known as MJ, that October morning as the pair were both feeling ill and MJ's mother, Eranna Tiopira, had to go to work.


Between the time Ms Tiopira received a text from Huata saying the pair were going to shower at 10.17am and the time he rang to tell her MJ was unconscious at 10.51am, the boy had been subjected to several blows to the head which caused a subdural haematoma.

Both the prosecution and defence agreed MJ died as a result of a serious head injury, but had different cases as to how it was caused.

Crown prosecutor Steve Manning said the teenage defendant had found himself "out of his depth" looking after the boy and proceeded to lose the plot and inflict the serious head injury.

"Parents can snap, even the best parents can snap," he said.

Defence counsel Russell Fairbrother, QC, argued the injuries were caused by the energetic boy tripping on a towel after the shower and accidentally falling down some steps into a brick wall in what he described as a "freakish accident".

A jury delivered unanimous guilty verdicts for both charges after six hours of deliberations.

In a victim impact statement MJ's grandmother, Bernice Te Ahuru, who represented MJ's paternal family, described the horror she felt when she first lay eyes on her moko's "broken" body.

She was living in Western Australia when she received the phone call from her daughter and immediately flew home to see MJ in the Hawke's Bay Hospital. He died two days later.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The sight of my motionless moko. With all the injuries he incurred, from what I was told a fall down the steps, brought tears to our eyes."

Instead of celebrating his fourth birthday in March this year they had unveiled his headstone, she said.

"It should be a time where we celebrate our loved ones that have passed on. Instead I break down and cry, knowing the manner in which our moko is lying in a place he shouldn't be in."

At sentencing Justice Susan Thomas accepted that the violence inflicted upon the boy was more than just a momentary loss of control and passed no discount for remorse, concluding Huata had shown he was only sorry MJ had died.

"There was a significant breach of trust in that you were entrusted to care for MJ."

Ms Tiopira remained in a relationship with Huata and was pregnant with his child during the court proceedings.