“Full force - enough to, like, buckle my knees.”
That is how a close friend of murder accused Tyson Brown described a demonstration the defendant is alleged to have given of the physical discipline technique he used on slain toddler Arapera Moana Aroha Fia.
Brown, 22, was arrested after the 2-year-old arrived at Starship hospital on October 31, 2021, covered from head to toe in bruises, with a fatal brain injury and unable to breathe on her own. She was pronounced dead hours later.
The defendant, whose trial began this week, sat in the dock today in the High Court at Auckland as his friend — a fellow amateur musician who he used to rap alongside — nervously testified against him.
“I never met her,” the friend said of Arapera.
But he recalled a conversation about the child less than two months before her death when he, Brown’s younger brother and the defendant were hanging out and having drinks.
“When she plays up, I give her a little of this,” the friend recalled Brown saying, adding that Brown then demonstrated a mixed-martial arts style shin kick.
“Phoenix, his brother, asked for clarification. He was like, ‘What the f***? It wasn’t that hard.’ And he [Brown] was like, ‘Yeah,’ and he did it again, full force.”
The friend, who asked not to be identified by name, said he initially brushed off the comment.
But almost two months later — on November 5, just days after the child’s death — he received a call from Brown, who through sobs informed the friend that Arapera had died and he was in MIQ isolating with Covid. Neither man knew it at the time, but police had obtained a warrant to listen in on Brown’s calls and were recording their conversation.
The calls were played in court today.
“F***. What the f***?” the friend asked incredulously as Brown revealed the death.
“It’s gone up in the media and shit,” Brown responded. “You just can’t believe everything that, if you do see anything about it, just don’t believe it, bro.”
Brown added moments later: “I can’t talk to anyone. I can’t sleep, cos no one f***ing knows. They don’t even know her.”
The exchange resumed minutes later, after the friend left work for a more private conversation.
“F***ing something just happened to baby, aye bro,” Brown continued. “F***ing I don’t know what happened but she was asleep, and was asleep for awhile and then f***ing just checking on her, checking on her and getting worried about her, and f***ing she just had, she started having trouble breathing and could see her heart rate was picking up and stuff. So called the ambulance. F***, bro, I don’t know what happened after they took her. Cos she was still alive with us.”
Brown went on to complain that police had “stripped” him down and made him hand over his phone and were “questioning me if I f***ing killed her”.
“She even got f***ing marks all over her that weren’t there when we gave her over,” he said.
A week later, on November 11, the friends talked again, and police again covertly recorded the call. By that point, the friend’s tone of voice had changed - no longer shocked and sympathetic.
“The cops pulled me in last night,” the friend said. “When they realised how close they were with me, they started hammering me. I haven’t folded. I don’t fold. But I made them give up info, G. Evidence that they have and that.”
The friend went on to say he had been thinking about things Brown had said previously.
“I’ve been putting two and two together and, like, if you did this, G, I’m ringing you out of love,” he said. “Like, I will have your back as much as I can ... but you got to come clean, G.”
Brown responded: “I did not do it, okay?
“... Straight up, she was alive with us and, s*** bro, but they’re doing this. I don’t know why, bro ... But bro, we did not beat her to the f***ing point where she died. No s*** like that happened, bro.”
The friend reminded Brown of the conversation he recalled them having in September when Brown described “booting her around” when the child wasn’t listening.
“It’s not like that, bro,” the defendant responded. “... I don’t do that to f***ing little kids.”
The friend went on to say he couldn’t believe Brown’s suggestion that the paramedics caused her bruises and killed her.
“G, I can’t just throw away like hundreds of years of medical science,” the friend said, causing Brown to sigh. “I told the cops the truth, that you’re my brother, that you’re my rock. And I’m finding it hard to believe as well, G, but like f***, that’s a 2-year-old girl, G, and I can’t deny pure evidence and that, you know?”
Brown remained adamant he did nothing wrong, again lashing out at police for treating him like a suspect. He said the child had fallen off a slide seven hours earlier - something his own lawyer has acknowledged couldn’t have caused Arapera’s death.
“She’s a clumsy girl herself anyway,” Brown said. “Always out doing stuff. Always out hurting herself. Always falling over s***. She was always doing something stupid, bro. Always doing something that she knew she wasn’t supposed to do.
“... She wasn’t beaten up or anything, bro.”
Brown continued with a long soliloquy in which the friend stopped speaking.
“Look, I don’t blame anyone if they want to f***ing turn on me and s*** because at the end of the day, like, she was in my care and she was being taken care of by me while I was there with [the primary caregiver].”
The primary caregiver, who continues to have name suppression, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last week for failing to protect the child. She is expected to testify against Brown before the trial ends.
“I’m going f***ing crazy over this s***, bro,” Brown continued. “I see her in my dreams, and f***. But I don’t know what happened ... She just had an accident at the house off her slide.
“... She would get smacks and stuff and get all that for being a naughty girl, but I promise you, bro, that I did not beat her up until she died. She did not die at the house with us.”
After the call was played for jurors today, the friend explained that he had eventually set his mobile on speaker and walked away as Brown continued to talk uninterrupted.
“So that was my first time hearing it,” he testified.
Brown called back about seven hours later, asking the friend about his conversation with police. But the call became contentious. His close confidant had clearly had enough.
“G, I just can’t believe that, that she came back with injuries as if, like, the ambulance did it,” the friend said, to which Brown reiterated that the child must have been injured after she was taken to hospital. “... Why does this story just keep changing? Like, why do you keep updating your story?”
“I’m not,” Brown replied.
“There was no falling off the slide before,” the friend retorted. “There was no accident.”
The friend added later: “Do you remember that night when you told me that you used to give her the boot? Do you remember that night?”
“Yeah, bro, I do, I do,” Brown responded, beginning to say more then trailing off with a long pause.
“I didn’t tell you the full story or anything from the start because, bro, I was still mourning for that girl ... This is just a lot for me to comprehend as well, which is probably why it might sound like it’s all f***ing one story and s*** to you, bro. Other s*** is getting added and updated, because each day that goes by I’m figuring out new s*** about it too.
“... I don’t know how any of this sounds to you. I’m not trying to make it seem like I’m trying to convince you about this s***, bro. At the end of the day, you’re someone that can make judgment off what you think is right and wrong and I won’t hold it against you, bro. I won’t, because I know how all of this looks and I don’t want to feel like I’m trying to explain myself to you because you think that I did something to her.”
He then continued on about the child being uninjured until paramedics arrived.
“Nah, I’m over this s***,” the friend said as he hung up.
During cross-examination this afternoon, defence lawyer Lester Cordwell repeatedly asked the friend if he knew the calls were being recorded and if police had coached him to fish for a confession. The friend repeatedly denied it.
The witness agreed with Cordwell that Brown was drunk and possibly high on the night he spoke about the child’s disciplining. The friend also acknowledged that he walked in during the middle of the conversation and didn’t know for sure at the time if Brown was serious or not. But the conversation was disconcerting enough that stuck in his mind, he said.
“I didn’t want to narc on him at the time,” he said of not initially telling police about the September conversation, explaining that he had a change of heart and tried to tell a detective just hours later.
“I felt like I needed to make my own mind up, if that makes sense,” the witness said, explaining that he talked with his sister after meeting with police and it was his sister who suggested he call Brown again to confront him with inconsistencies. “I just wanted to be out with it and say it, and see how he responds and judge off that.”
Cordwell noted that his client didn’t admit to killing Arapera despite the friend’s pointed questions. He asked the friend if he thought Brown was guilty regardless.
“That’s my opinion,” the witness said.
The trial, before Justice David Johnstone, is set to continue on Monday.