Couple's toddler strapped in stroller inside the house while her mother was beaten to death.

A man who punched, kicked and stomped his partner to death in a jealous "eruption of rage" was on bail for a previous violent attack on her.

Marie Rose Harlick died after a 20-minute assault by Robert Roupere Hohua during which a neighbour heard him yell "get up before I kill you".

Their 19-month-old daughter was inside the Opotiki home, strapped in her stroller, during the fatal beating in November 2016.

Hohua, 36, yesterday pleaded not guilty to the murder charge at the start of his trial in the High Court at Tauranga.

Advertisement

However, he has accepted responsibility for her death.

Defence lawyer Gene Tomlinson told the jury Hohua was guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter - not murder - as he did not mean to kill her.

"The issue for you is to decide what was in his mind during the assault."

Before her violent death, Hohua and Harlick had been in a relationship for around two years and raised a 19-month-old girl together, Crown prosecutor Richard Jenson said in his opening address.

But the couple were not living together at the time of her death.

Marie Harlick was in a tumultuous relationship with Robert Hohua. Photo/Supplied.
Marie Harlick was in a tumultuous relationship with Robert Hohua. Photo/Supplied.

This was because Hohua was on bail for an earlier violent attack on Harlick in October.

As part of his bail conditions on the charge of assault with intent to injure, Hohua was not allowed to go within 100m of Harlick.

A bail curfew meant Hohua had to be at another Opotiki address between the hours of 7pm and 6am.

Advertisement

Despite these strict conditions, the couple had been drinking together with friends in the hours leading up to Harlick's death.

This was at a house on Wellington St where Harlick was serving a sentence of home detention.

Just before his 7pm curfew, Hohua returned to his bail address on Windsor St with Vivienne, who was just 19-months-old, and others he was drinking with.

But around 9.30pm, Hohua became worried Harlick was being unfaithful to him and returned to Harlick's home on Wellington St, pushing the toddler in the stroller.

When Harlick didn't answer the door, Jenson said Hohua became angry and smashed a window to let himself in.

Harlick walked in the back door, but was too drunk to answer Hohua's questions.

This "enraged" Hohua, said Jenson, who punched Harlick in the face.

She was knocked to the ground and "probably unconscious at this point", said Jenson.

A neighbour called 111 at 9.58pm and also heard a man shout "get up before I kill you", or "get up or I'll kill you".

The teenage witness, who cannot be named because of his age, said he heard "multiple stomps" and someone "gasping for air".

"I knew someone was getting hurt and it was going to be bad if someone didn't help."

The young man, who was visiting a friend who lived next door, conceded under cross-examination by Tomlinson he never saw "stomping".

He and his friend wanted to go next door to stop the fighting, but the friend's mother did not let them.

"I said no, ring the police ... he was only 17," Rita Kurei told the jury.

"I heard a lot of banging ... it seemed like it was going on forever."

Robert Roupere Hohua admits killing her partner Marie Harlick, but denies murdering her. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Robert Roupere Hohua admits killing her partner Marie Harlick, but denies murdering her. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Marie Harlick was beaten to death by her partner Robert Hohua. Photo/Supplied.
Marie Harlick was beaten to death by her partner Robert Hohua. Photo/Supplied.

Hohua is alleged to have punched, kicked and stomped Harlick in an assault which dragged on for around 20 minutes.

Hohua then dragged her into the bath, where he cleaned the blood off her face.

Her body was left under the running tap while Hohua went to check on Vivienne, who was crying in the stroller.

He then moved Harlick on to a mattress in a bedroom and covered her with a blanket. Vivienne was later found in the same room.

Two police officers, who were tied up with another incident when the 111 call was made, arrived at the Wellington St house at 10.24pm.

Hohua fled and was tasered during the arrest. The police found Harlick inside the bedroom, unresponsive.

A post-mortem examination revealed a long list of injuries inflicted during the "eruption of rage", said Jenson, including bruises, cuts and fractures to both sides of her jaw.

But just a faint bruise marked the fatal injury.

She bled to death internally after a stomp or kick to her stomach ruptured an artery.

For the jury to convict Hohua of murder, Jenson said the Crown had to prove murderous intent at the time of the assault.

Even if Hohua did not intend to kill Harlick, Jenson said murderous intent could be established if the Crown proved Hohua knew the beating could kill her, but went ahead anyway.

"[Hohua] consciously took a risk to dice with Ms Harlick's life," said Jenson.

This alternative was described as a "reckless murder" or the Crown's "back-up position", when Tomlinson responded in his opening address to the jury.

"Mr Hohua assaulted Marie that night and as a consequence she died. There is no issue with that. He is clearly guilty of manslaughter.

"The real issue is did he know, consciously, what he was doing was likely to kill her? Your job is not to hold him to account. Your job is to decide what was in his mind."

The trial before Justice Anne Hinton is scheduled for two weeks.

Where to go for help or more information:

• If you are in danger call Police on 111
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisisline operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584