A Flaxmere man who killed his 2-year-old stepson has been sentenced to seven and a half years' imprisonment.
Tamehana Huata, 19, appeared before Judge Susan Thomas in the Napier High Court this morning to be sentenced on one charge of manslaughter and one charge of injuring with intent to injure his stepson Matiu Wereta, 'MJ', in October 2015.
Represented by defence counsel Russell Fairbrother QC, Huata stood trial before Judge Thomas in the Napier High Court earlier this year after pleading not guilty to both charges.
He was found guilty of both charges by unanimous verdict within six hours of jury deliberations and was today sentenced to seven and a half years for the charge of manslaugter and two and a half for the charge of injuring with intent to injure, to be served concurrently.
Huata, who is still in a relationship with the boy's mother Errana Tiopira, will leave behind an unborn child as Errana is six months pregnant with his child.
Matiu's paternal grandmother, Bernice, broke down in court this morning as she read out a victim impact statement detailing her suffering since the death of her "moko".
"He was beautiful to touch, caress, hold and admire and all of the other trimmings that come with being a proud grandmother. "
She told the court that instead of celebrating MJ's fourth birthday in March this year they had unveiled his headstone.
"MJ when I see videos and photos of you watching kapa haka, watching your dad playing sport, it reminds me of you every single day. I cry out to you from the bottom of my heart. You should still be here but you are not."
Crown prosecutor Steve Manning suggested a starting point of 10 years' imprisonment and asked the judge to treat the injuries sustained as an aggravating factor of the case.
Manning mentioned a youth discount but said that remorse, of which Huata had shown no indication of, went hand in hand with this discount.
"There is sorry for what happened, there is regret for what happened. But remorse is a different thing," he said.
Fairbrother said the pre sentence report noted Huata was "humble and grief-stricken" and suggested a starting point of seven to eight years' imprisonment.
"Whilst he does not accept responsibility he has shown appropriate remorse and he is not trying to transfer blame to other people."
Fairbrother said Huata had faced the "tremendous responsibility" when dealing with Maitu who was known to be robust and expressive in his wants and wishes.
Judge Thomas noted Huata's position of power and responsibilty at the time that he had violently assaulted the two and half year-old, 14 kilogram boy.
She accepted that the violence inflicted upon Matiu was more than just a momentary loss of control.
"There was a significant breach of trust in that you were entrusted to care for MJ."
The judge also agreed with the Crown's assessment that Huata was sorry, but not remorseful. Thus he recieved no discount for remorse.
"A period of imprisonment and time for reflection will help assist you in this regard," she said.
Matiu was found unconscious with bruises, bite marks and a serious head injury after an ambulance was called to his Flaxmere home the morning of October 12, 2015.
He died in Hawke's Bay Hospital two days later.
Experts told the jury that Matiu died of a significant head injury by way of blunt force trauma, akin to injuries that could have been caused by a car accident.
Both the prosecution and defence agreed Matiu had died as a result of a serious head injury, but argued different cases as to how the head injury was caused.
Huata, who was 17 years old at the time of the toddler's death, was the only adult in the house during the time window in which Matiu sustained the life-threatening injuries.
He and Matiu had were both feeling sick that day so stayed home to watch television while Errana went to work.
When she left for work Matiu was fine and had only several scratches and marks from previously swimming at a pool and playing rugby with his cousins.
But when Huata rang her at 10.51am he told her Matiu was unconscious.
The defence argued the multiple bruises, bite marks and fatal head injury was caused by Matiu tripping on a towel and accidentally falling into a brick wall in what Russell Fairbrother described as a "freakish accident".
However the jury's verdict meant they agreed with the Crown's case that argued Huata had found himself "out of his depth" looking after the boy and proceeded to lose the plot and inflict the serious head injury.
Mr Manning said the defence's argument that the entirety of Matiu's injuries were inflicted by accidentally falling into a brick wall stretched the bounds of credibility, and argued while Huata may be a good person even good people can lose their temper and make bad decisions.
"Parents can snap, event the best parents can snap," he said.
An aunty of the Flaxmere toddler, Jolene Morrell, described the young boy to the jury yesterday as happy and bubbly, but full-on.