WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
A former Auckland teen runaway who spent six years in a lockdown psychiatric facility after she helped kidnap and torture her 17-year-old friend - then helped to dump their body after she was forced to hang herself - was handed a sentence today of five years and 10 months.
But instead of prison, the now-22-year-old will return to the Mason Clinic, where she will now be held as a special patient.
The defendant wiped away tears today as she returned to the High Court at Auckland for sentencing, four months after a long-delayed trial in which the jury found her guilty of kidnapping Dimetrius Pairama but was deadlocked on a murder allegation.
Prosecutor Rob McDonald confirmed today that the Crown will not seek a retrial for murder, prompting Justice Kiri Tahana to dismiss the charge.
Prosecutors also sought to lift her interim name suppression. The defence, meanwhile, sought to make the suppression permanent, noting that while 16 at the time of offending she was assessed as having the mental capacity of a child between the ages of 11 and 13 years old.
Justice Tahana rejected the permanent name suppression request, noting that Pairama’s family was opposed to keeping her identity secret. However, she allowed it to stay in place for two more weeks so that the defendant’s mental health team will have time to prepare her.
“There is a public interest in learning your identity,” Tahana said. “The safety of the public is relevant.”
Today’s hearing brought to a close an unusually lengthy criminal justice process for the horrific July 2018 killing of Pairama, whose body was discovered in a rusted steel drum outside a derelict, abandoned Māngere state home.
Over the course of six hours prior to her death, she was repeatedly punched and stomped on, forced to disrobe and tied naked to a chair with soiled underwear stuffed into her mouth, had her hair hacked off, was burned on sensitive areas of her body with a makeshift blowtorch, had household chemicals and baby powder poured on top of her, burning her eyes, and was ultimately forced to choose the method of her own murder: hanging or stabbing.
During the four-week trial, prosecutors painted the defendant as someone who harboured “bitter resentment” over a perceived Facebook slight by Pairama and perhaps teen drama over a boy they both liked. As “trivial” as those reasons might sound, they were enough to prompt the defendant to act as a “wingman” after another co-defendant took the lead, they argued.
But defence lawyer David Niven presented a different picture of the defendant: a “vulnerable” person who was under the control of co-defendant Ashley Winter, described as a domineering, “predatory” adult nearly twice her age.
Winter, who was 27 at the time of the killing, and co-defendant Kerry Te Amo, 24, were both found guilty of murder by another jury in 2019. But the current defendant did not join them in the dock because she was deemed incompetent to stand trial at the time. Her mental status changed last year, paving the way for the new trial.
Pairama was described during the trial as a “happy and outgoing” teen who “appeared to be doing her best to find her way in this world”. Like the defendant, she had a learning disability, had been in and out of Oranga Tamariki care and would sometimes run away and live on the street.
“She was headstrong on what she wanted out of life and was quite the philosopher, which I was proud of,” her mother, Lena Hetaraka-Pairama, recalled today while reading a victim impact statement.
“My main question was, ‘Did she call for me in her time of distress, darkness?” she said. “I wish I had the chance to comfort her and hold her to my chest.”
Both sides agreed during today’s hearing that the defendant should return to the Mason Clinic and not prison. The defence sought less restrictive settings for her psychiatric treatment.
“She’s done the punitive aspect of the sentence,” Niven said of the six years she has been in psychiatric custody awaiting trial, suggesting that it allowed the judge to turn her focus solely to rehabilitation.
But Justice Tahana said deterrence and denunciation were also necessary for the degrading and cruel treatment of the victim. She accepted that the co-defendants Winter and Te Amo, both serving life sentences, were more “dominant” that day.
“You nevertheless took part in the violence and cruelty,” Tahana said, characterising the current defendant’s contributions as also “significant”.
“You could have gone to get help. ... You did not.”
Kidnapping carries a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment.
Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.