By BRIDGET CARTER
Sue Stephens has coped with the shooting of her grandson, the stabbing of her son and the drowning of her husband.
Now the 54-year-old must live with the fact that a jury decided her son was killed by his wife because he repeatedly beat her.
The wife, Honor Stephens, was found not guilty in the High Court at Whangarei of murdering Wiremu Mena Stephens on April 6 last year. She was also found not guilty of manslaughter.
The accused woman had said on videotape that she grabbed a knife and plunged it into her husband's heart after years of being demoralised and beaten.
On Tuesday, a jury found the 29-year-old mother of two not guilty of murder or manslaughter on the grounds of self-defence.
Sue Stephens told the Herald yesterday that she was disappointed with the verdict, saying her 26-year-old son had faults but he did not deserve to die.
"It is guilt she will have to live with for the rest of her life."
The string of tragedies that has beset Sue Stephens began when her 2-year-old grandson, Justin Stephens, was accidentally shot dead by her husband, Samuel Stephens, while duck-shooting near their home at Pawarenga on the Far North's west coast in 1995.
Last year, only nine months after Wiremu was killed, her 60-year-old husband drowned while fishing at Pawarenga.
Honor Stephens said that on the night of the stabbing, her husband was pounding her in the head.
"I wasn't aiming anywhere in particular. I just wanted it to stop. I didn't realise the damage I had done."
For years, she had telephoned the police about the abuse and took out a protection order against him, but all attempts to use the law proved hopeless.
The abuse squashed her self-esteem and she suffered from a form of post traumatic stress disorder, battered-woman syndrome.
"I ended up marrying the guy because I could not get away from him," said the woman who played rugby while completing a bachelor of consumer and applied sciences degree at Otago University and had worked as a chef.
"I thought of leaving him heaps of times, but it is never going to happen ...
"The law doesn't do anything for me. He doesn't respect the law."
But Sue Stephens said what was not mentioned in court was how her son was a baby brother who got on with everyone and dearly loved his two sons.
He was a bright student at Tikipunga High School and frequently visited his grandmother.
Sue Stephens said she did not believe everything said about her son in court.
The day Honor Stephens killed her husband, the couple had been drinking at their Raumanga home in Whangarei since 1.45pm. Honor had Steinlager and wine.
When some family members left that night, the couple fought and Mr Stephens punched her after she pushed him up against a window.
Honor's mother tried to intervene. Eventually, Honor kicked her husband off , grabbed a knife by the bread bin in the kitchen and stabbed him.
Outside court, defence lawyer Gerard Winter said the jury had accepted that Honor Stephens acted in self-defence.
"She was in a battered relationship, living in very difficult circumstances.
"One night she reacted in self-defence."
The outcome of the case was an uncommon one, said a spokesman for the Criminal Bar Association, Richard Earwaker.
There were other cases where people had been acquitted after killing, including a case where a woman had killed her husband in his sleep.
In that case battered woman syndrome had also been recognised.
The syndrome was not a defence, but self-defence was. To prove that, you had to illustrate the accused's state of mind at the time of the killing, he said.
The term battered woman syndrome came to national attention when Christchurch woman Gay Rosemary Oakes used it as a defence after she murdered her husband and buried him in her backyard in 1993.
Oakes said Douglas Stuart Gardner had abused her for years, but Oakes was found guilty of murder and received a mandatory life sentence.
Meanwhile, Honor Stephens' brother-in-law Stu Flett said she would now try to get on with her life.
It had been a very stressful couple of weeks.
By BRIDGET CARTER