They met when they were 14 and stayed together, having four daughters. Steve Braunias talks to the woman who loves and defends Baby Chance’s convicted killer, Boston Wilson.
Two rooms on Thursday morning this week in the High Court at Auckland, where a perfect day in spring had brought out pale blue flowering wisteria in the courtyard.
Courtroom 7 on the ground floor served as the first room. Sentencing was set for 9am in the hopelessly sad case of the killing of a boy known as Baby Chance, who died at Auckland Starship on December 17, 2021, two days after paramedics were called to a house in Birkdale on Auckland’s North Shore. Chance Aipolani-Nielson was 10 months old. He suffered blunt-force trauma to the head. His uncle, Boston Wilson, then 21, was arrested, and charged with murder, which he denied and was found guilty at his trial in July.
About an hour after sentencing, I sat in a little meeting room near the front doors of the court. I interviewed the woman who fell in love with Boston Wilson when they met at 14 in Year 10 at high school. Darien Aipolani-Williams is now 24. She has four daughters to the man she is still in love with; they were, she said, in a good place, probably the best their relationship had ever been, up until Xmas 2021, up until the day she popped out for coffee and left him alone in the house with their nephew, Baby Chance.
Justice Christine Gordon presided over the sentencing. She used the same word as prosecutor Alysha McClintock, and Lorraine Smith for the defence: “unusual”. They all said it to describe the background and circumstances of the killing of Baby Chance as very, very different to the standard pattern of cases where a baby has been killed by a male who is not the biological father. They meant it was familiar to see a pattern of dysfunction, of booze, of criminal offending, of unhappy people falling apart at the seams every single day until there was a kind of sick and disgraceful inevitability that the worst thing in the world would happen - that a baby would be killed.
This was not the pattern in the life of Boston Wilson. He was a loving and supportive member of a loving and supportive family. He had no criminal past. He was a teen dad who stayed with his partner and they raised their four children: yeah, unusual.
Darien sat with her whānau around a table in the interview room. The walls were bare. There was nothing to look at except each other but when they did that they cried, so they tried to just look down at the table and the carpet. Darien cried anyway. The first question I asked her was how she was and she answered the bland question in a descending order. She said, “I’m coping. Just. Not really, actually.” She barely sleeps, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, also anxiety and depression.
After the Crown set out its argument for a life sentence, and after the defence maintained this would be manifestly unjust, Judge Gordon opened her remarks with a flat and emphatic statement directed at Boston Wilson: “You murdered your 10-month-old nephew.” It was the first thing she had said since interrupting defence lawyer Lorraine Smith. Wilson’s age, Smith had said, ought to be a mitigating factor; he was only 21 when Baby Chance was killed. Justice Gordon leaped in and said: “He was a week short of turning 22.” The severity of this rejoinder suggested the judge might lean towards the strongest possible sentencing.
“We wanted to get married,” said Darien in the little room, talking about life before the death of Baby Chance. “We were going with the flow and enjoying life. It was always going to be together, as one, us and our girls.” I asked after their kids, aged from 1 to 6. “My eldest is not coping. She’s not coping at all. There have been times when I find her just crying in her room, and she wants her dad. I don’t know how to handle this situation on my own.”
Justice Gordon outlined mitigating factors, as well as aggravating factors. The latter included her observation that Baby Chance was “particularly vulnerable”. She said: “This is stating the obvious.”
“He’s never been an angry person,” Darien said, weeping, again. “Even when he’s upset, there’s no anger.” I asked her to comment on the Crown case - which the jury agreed with, when it delivered its guilty verdict - that Wilson was playing a hunting game on PlayStation, heard Baby Chance crying, and the noise angered him so much that he went into the baby’s bedroom and shook him, then struck his head against a table. She said, “I can’t imagine that happening. Our kids cried all the time. Chance was quite often crying. It wasn’t something that was out of the ordinary for Boston. He was very used to it. I can never imagine him getting angered and frustrated by it. He’s always been good with children. I just can’t see that happening.”
Justice Gordon said in sentencing, “He cried. You went in and either in anger, or frustration, or stress, you shook Chance violently, with extreme force.” She then described the injuries to Chance’s head, and rejected Wilson’s claim that he accidentally dropped the baby, and then also accidentally struck his head against a door. “You used blunt force in some way. Most likely you threw him to the ground, his head hitting the table. As long as you deny this, we may never know exactly what you did. But you intentionally and deliberately impacted Chance’s head as well as violently shaking him.”
Baby Chance was Darien’s nephew, the son of her sister, Azure Nielson. They all lived together in the same house – Darien and Boston and their four little girls, Azure and her infant son. During the trial, defence talked quite a lot about how Darien and Boston wanted to adopt Chance, but that seemed to be news to Azure when it was put to her in court. I asked Darien what that was all about, and she said, “We did want to adopt him. When you’re Māori and you’re whānau and you talk about whāngai, it’s not a formally written adoption. We didn’t want to take away that role of Azure still being his mother. We did want to whāngai him, to have more than just one person he could go to. We did see him as that son we never got. He was very special to us.”
Much of the Crown case against Wilson in his trial was expert medical testimony which compared the catastrophic head injuries to being in a serious car crash, or falling from a one-storey building. Justice Gordon repeated this damning evidence in her sentencing. But she also considered the defence’s argument that it was manifestly unjust to impose a minimum term of imprisonment of 17 years before Wilson would be eligible to apply for parole. For a good long while the argument did not seem to be getting very far with the judge. “You continue to deny your offending,” she told him, “and you cannot be said to have shown remorse.”
I asked Darien how she felt that the man she loves maintains his denials that he lost control and struck Chance. She said, “I truly believe what he’s saying. I do truly believe what he’s saying.” Victim impact reports at sentencing mentioned the killing had caused “deep divisions” in the family. I asked Darien about her relationship with her sister, Azure, the mother of Baby Chance. She said, “She tries to talk to me but for my own sanity and my own protection I have to put up a boundary and not allow that back into my life.”
It was an entirely grim morning at courtroom 7 in the High Court at Auckland on Thursday morning. But it ended with a grace note, a small reduction of time spent in prison, a slight relaxing of the punishment. Justice Gordon said that a minimum term of 17 years before being eligible to apply for parole was indeed manifestly unjust, and she reduced it to 15 years.
The little interview room where Darien sat with her whānau got smaller and smaller, a tight, narrowing space of denial and refusal, of enduring love and fierce loyalty. They were grieving for Boston Wilson. I asked Darien about the first victim, Baby Chance. “He was a lovely little boy. I was at home almost every day with him. He was a good boy. He was my godson. I was called Auntie Mum. I was his auntie mum. He was my son-son - that’s what me and Boston used to call him. Son-son.”
The interview finished. We said goodbye outside, in bright spring sunshine. The family walked around the side of the court to wait for the prison van to leave so they could wave at Boston Wilson, about to begin the next 15 years of his life in the bleakest kind of room of all – a prison cell - for the murder of Baby Chance.