WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
An Auckland man who would go into fits of jealous rage - kicking and stomping his pregnant partner in the head as she curled into a ball to protect her belly - experienced fatherhood for less than half a year before he turned his aggression on their infant son, killing him.
Clarity Turu was so young and defenceless he could not yet roll over by himself or sit unsupported on the day in October 2020 that Hamuera Rawhiti fatally tortured the 5-month-old, according to court documents recently obtained by the Herald.
“He was completely dependent on you on that day,” Justice Neil Campbell told Rawhiti earlier this month as the former father was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in the High Court at Auckland.
Rawhiti offered to plead guilty to manslaughter two years ago, but prosecutors rejected the suggestion, opting to instead stick with a charge of murder. His trial took place in March, after a lengthy delay in which the original trial date was cancelled due to Auckland’s 2021 Covid-19 lockdown. He remained on electronically-monitored bail for much of that time, asking at one point - and receiving - permission to leave his home so he could visit Clarity’s grave.
Jurors acquitted him of murder in lieu of manslaughter following a risky trial gambit in which he agreed to testify, emotionally admitting in graphic detail the suffering he inflicted on the child in his final hours of life. It included wrapping sellotape around the infant’s head and over his mouth, shaking him, punching him and having “snapped” his arm.
“You said you heard his arm click when you broke it,” Justice Campbell recalled at sentencing. “You also grabbed Clarity by both legs, lifted him up, and then smacked his head down hard on a couch with a solid wooden frame underneath upholstery. Again, that was your own evidence.”
There was also evidence that Clarity may have been strangled, but the judge said it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt so he wouldn’t consider it at sentencing. Rawhiti certainly did not seem to minimise his responsibility for what happened that day, the judge also noted, adding that much of the evidence about what happened to Clarity came from his trip from the dock to the witness box.
“I do not consider that you were trying to hide anything,” Campbell said. “It was also clear to me from your evidence that even during the trial you were very remorseful.”
But the judge also noted: “This was not a momentary loss of control, and it can only be described as extreme violence.”
Analysis of Rawhiti’s device usage showed that at 8.57am on the morning of Clarity’s death, he found a video on YouTube titled, “What to do if your baby stops breathing - resuscitation video”. Six minutes later, he asked to borrow a neighbour’s phone but she had no credit for her phone, so he returned home. He remained there for nearly an hour before calling 111 on another neighbour’s phone.
“The first ambulance arrived at 10.10am,” the judge noted. “Clarity was cold and blue in colour. He had no heartbeat.”
Clarity’s mother was visiting family in Hamilton that day. She was in court for the sentencing but asked Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes to read her victim impact statement for her.
“It is clear that the effects have been profound and are ongoing,” the judge later noted. “Her life for a time spiralled out of control, and that was a direct result of your offending. This has affected her wider whānau.
“Her strength in coming here today is extraordinary.”
Citing similar baby death cases, Justice Campbell came up with an 11-year starting point for Rawhiti’s sentence, uplifting it by a further two years for his admitted attacks on his partner when she was pregnant. He then applied discounts that had been sought by defence lawyer Julie-Anne Kincade, KC, for her client’s willingness to plead guilty, his remorse, the time he’s already spent on restrictive electronically monitored bail conditions and for his “seriously dysfunctional upbringing”.
Rawhiti’s own childhood abuse makes for “harrowing reading”, the judge acknowledged.
“Your first few years were shaped by frequent and brutal violence by and between your mother and stepfather,” he noted. “You both saw and received that violence yourself. You were also neglected by your parents, who at that time were more interested in drinking with their fellow Black Power members than raising their children.”
Justice Campbell described it as “frankly unsurprising” that Rawhiti was uplifted when he was 5 or 6. However, the defendant remains haunted by the experience to this day by his treatment at the many foster care homes he was shuffled to, he noted.
“Your violence showed an inability to regulate your emotions and behaviour. I consider your background contributed to this,” the judge said.
But his own horrific upbringing can’t excuse his decision to ruin another child’s upbringing, the judge said, pointing out that many people with backgrounds such as Rawhiti’s “lead lives without any of the violence you exhibited”. He allowed a modest discount of 10 per cent for background and another 5 per cent for remorse.
While Rawhiti submitted a letter of apology to the court, “it is what happened at trial that speaks most to me”, the judge said.
“It is quite common in manslaughter cases of this sort, involving a parent killing their child, for the defendant to try to minimise their responsibility,” he said. “You did that in the very early stages of the police investigation and indeed I consider you did that during the 111 call itself. You lied to police about what you had done to Clarity and you accepted that during the trial.
“But I accept that even at those early stages that you never suggested that any other person was at fault.”
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.