Every year in New Zealand, thousands of people appear before the courts.

While many are in the dock for minor offending, others are there to be held accountable for the most shocking, abhorrent, violent and serious crimes.

The Herald has reported on many cases this year and told the stories of those behind the crimes - and those harmed in the process.

In this feature, senior crime and justice reporter Anna Leask looks back at some of the biggest cases in New Zealand courts across 2018.

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WARNING: some of these cases could be upsetting and not suitable for all readers. Please, take care.

1. The teenage sex slave

New Zealanders were outraged by the case of Kasmeer Lata - jailed for keeping her teenage daughter as a sex slave.

In April Lata was jailed for six years and 11 months for dealing in slaves and receiving earnings from commercial sexual services from an underage person.

Kasmeer Lata forced her daughter to have sex with at least 1000 men and was jailed as a result. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Kasmeer Lata forced her daughter to have sex with at least 1000 men and was jailed as a result. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The horrific case involved Lata - described at sentencing as "the most despised woman in New Zealand- keeping her teenager daughter as a sex slave and selling her to men for sexual services an estimated 1000 times over a nearly two-year period around the city.

The first time the girl was sold was on her 15th birthday.

Lata's is one of New Zealand's most sickening criminal cases and just the third conviction for slave trading in the country's legal history.

Soon after sentencing Lata's daughter, now 18, shared her story exclusively with the Herald.

She spoke of "begging" her mother not to make her have sex with strangers, how her "earnings" were taken from her and the impact the heinous offending had on her.

"I felt that I had to do it," she said. "I had to do what I was told, what my mother said. I didn't want to."

The 18-year-old, who has permanent name suppression, said there were parts of her story she did not want to speak about - they were simply too traumatising.

The Crown later appealed Lata's sentence, seeking a harsher jail term.

The decision has been reserved.

In August a similar case was before the courts in Wellington after a Lower Hutt woman was jailed for planning to prostitute her 10-year-old granddaughter.

The unsuspecting child was only spared from harm because police arrested the grandmother's co-offender in May last year for sexually grooming another girl.

2. The murder of Kim Richmond

Kim Richmond was murdered by her partner, Cory Jefferies, who dumped her body into Lake Arapuni in the Waikato. Photo / Supplied
Kim Richmond was murdered by her partner, Cory Jefferies, who dumped her body into Lake Arapuni in the Waikato. Photo / Supplied

Waikato woman Kim Richmond was last seen alive in July 2016.

A year later her body was found inside her car, under 6m of water in Lake Arapuni.

Some of her clothes were wrapped tightly around the back of her neck and she was curled up in the foetal position on the back seat.

The mystery of what happened to Richmond was unravelled this year when her partner of 26 years went on trial for murder.

Cory Jefferies admitted attacking and killing Richmond soon after they left a party in the early hours of the morning. But he denied it was intentional and pleaded not guilty to murder.

In September the 46-year-old was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, with a minimum non-parole period of 11 years.

3. The "hideous" rapes of Colin Jack Mitchell

On his 60th birthday in March, Onehunga truckie Colin Mitchell was sentenced to preventive detention for two brutal and sexually motivated attacks on women in Auckland 25 years apart.

Earlier this year a jury found him guilty of abducting a young woman from Ponsonby then wounding and assaulting her at a quarry in Riverhead, West Auckland.

Mitchell was also found guilty of the historic unsolved rape of a West Auckland mum in 1992.

During the trial the Crown was also able to call "propensity evidence" - meaning they could tell the jury about Mitchell's prior conviction for raping a woman in 1984.

The Herald was unable to publish details of much of the trial due to intense suppression orders.

Colin Mitchell at sentencing in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
Colin Mitchell at sentencing in the High Court at Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

However once proceedings were over, Mitchell's litany of sexual and violent offending was revealed.

The survivor of his 1984 attack then spoke out about her attack - and lifetime of fear.

And in October, following a failed bid by Mitchell to appeal his convictions and sentence, a woman he raped in her own home in the 70s could finally share her story.

Police said Mitchell's offending was "hideous" and they were pleased he was now "where he belongs".

4. The boy jailed for a rape he did not commit

In November the Weekend Herald revealed the shocking story of a teenage boy wrongly accused of rape who spent nearly 10 years in prison - even though the so-called victim confessed to making up the sex allegations shortly after the trial.

The 17-year-old, Patrick*, was labelled a "dangerous sexual predator" by the judge who sentenced him to 4½ years in prison in 2005.

He was found guilty of multiple sexual assaults against another teenage boy, despite his adamant denials, in a trial where the jury also heard Patrick - a victim of sexual abuse himself - admitted indecently touching a young girl.

Less than a year later, the teenage complainant, Mark*, admitted to his Child Youth and Family caregivers he "made it all up" because of jealousy.

A teenage boy wrongly accused of rape went to prison protesting his innocence. A year later, the so-called victim recanted the allegations. Illustration / Andrew Louis
A teenage boy wrongly accused of rape went to prison protesting his innocence. A year later, the so-called victim recanted the allegations. Illustration / Andrew Louis

The time the confession came to light in 2015 - nearly 10 years after the complainant recanted to his caregivers - and Patrick was still in prison.

The Court of Appeal then found Patrick had suffered a miscarriage of justice and quashed the convictions stemming from his 2005 trial.

Patrick spoke out about his ordeal and the impact the conviction and his time behind bars had on him.

"I told everyone I was innocent," he said. "How did I go from being the victim to the villain?"

5. The baby-faced dark net drug importer

Elias Valentin Smith was sentenced to prison for operating a dark net drug importing scheme from his bedroom at his parents' North Shore home.

He was one of many teenagers arrested by police in the past 18 months for using Bitcoin to buy illicit drugs from around the world.

Smith, who at the time of the offending was attending one of the country's most affluent schools, was nabbed when Customs intercepted packages containing illicit substances he had imported from all over the world.

Elias Smith was convicted of importing class A drugs from the dark net. Photo / Facebook
Elias Smith was convicted of importing class A drugs from the dark net. Photo / Facebook

Smith was convicted of 14 charges relating to the attempted importation, possession and supply of class A and B drugs.

He was imprisoned for two years and three months but on appeal that sentence was quashed and replaced with 11 months' home detention.

Smith's best mate, Nicholas Michael Barker, who he enlisted to help him with the dark net scheme, had earlier been sentenced to eight months' home detention and 100 hours' community work.

The offending was uncovered during Operation Tiger and Operation Meerkat, a major police and Customs sting which began in 2016 after Waitemata detectives discovered cash-rich Kiwi teens delving into the dark web to source illicit drugs.

6. The butcher who killed, then claimed insanity

"I hope you rot in hell," murdered woman Renee Duckmanton's mother shouted at the man who took her daughter's life in the most brutal of ways.

In April, Gambian-born butcher Sainey Marong was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Duckmanton.

Sainey Marong on trial in the Christchurch High Court for the murder of Christchurch sex worker Renee Larissa Duckmanton. Photo / David Alexander
Sainey Marong on trial in the Christchurch High Court for the murder of Christchurch sex worker Renee Larissa Duckmanton. Photo / David Alexander

During his trial Marong admitted strangling the sex worker in May 2016 after picking her up from the city's red-light district, before dumping her body on a country roadside and setting it on fire.

But he denied that he meant to kill her and said he had no murderous intent, claiming he was insane at the time, suffering mental impairment and delusional, psychotic thoughts which began after he voluntarily stopped his insulin medication early in 2016.

A jury in the High Court at Christchurch was not convinced, and Marong was convicted.

At sentencing Justice Cameron Mander described Marong's fatal crime as premeditated and predatory.

He noted that Marong had, for some time, thought about killing a prostitute.

His internet searches in the weeks before the murder, which included kidnapping, local prostitutes, how to render a person unconscious, killing with bare hands, past murders of Christchurch sex workers, and necrophilia, seem to show a preoccupation with the killing of a sex worker with the ultimate likelihood of fulfilling a "depraved sexual fantasy".

It was a "cold-blooded" and "particularly callous and cruel" murder, Justice Mander said.

Marong later appealed his conviction, but failed.

7. The indecently assaulting councillor and the ruler

It was something unlikely ever ordered in a New Zealand courtroom.

During an indecent assault trial, a judge allowed a doctor to go to another room and measure the accused's penis with a wooden ruler.

The case - and then the trial - was astounding.

Kapiti Coast District Council councillor David Scott was charged with indecent assault after he pressed himself against a council employee following an official meeting.

Kapiti Coast councillor David Scott in the dock on day one of his trial. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Kapiti Coast councillor David Scott in the dock on day one of his trial. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Scott was later charged and during the trial his victim told the court that when he assaulted her, she could feel his genitals - measuring about four or five inches.

Defence Mike Antunovic asked Scott's GP to measure the length of Scott's penis in a separate room to determine if it was the same length as what the victim felt pressing into her.

That measurement is suppressed.

He also asked another witness to measure Scott's wallet which was about four and a half inches long.

Scott maintained he was innocent but a jury found him guilty of the charge.
He was convicted and in June, fined $1500.

Judge Peter Hobbs also entered a first strike against Scott, under the three strikes law.

The decision meant that Scott could no longer continue in his role as a district councillor.

8. The fake pregnancy and the kidnapped baby

An Epsom couple lived every parents' worst nightmare when they found their newborn baby had been taken from her bed.

It would turn out that the couple's nanny Nadene Faye Manukau-Togiavalu, 21, had taken the infant after faking an elaborate and delusional pregnancy to fool friends and family.

The case was bizarre, to say the least.

Nadene Manukau-Togiavalu wore a fake pregnancy suit during her hoax baby shower before she kidnapped a baby in her care in Epsom. Photo / Supplied
Nadene Manukau-Togiavalu wore a fake pregnancy suit during her hoax baby shower before she kidnapped a baby in her care in Epsom. Photo / Supplied

Before the kidnapping on August 9 last year, Manukau-Togiavalu hosted a hoax baby shower and wore a pregnancy suit as part of her con, social media photos provided to the Herald showed.

Her infatuation developed as she claimed that after giving birth her baby was adopted.

Then, enlisting the help of her cousin, Sydnee Shaunna Taulapapa, 18, Manukau-Togiavalu devised a plan to kidnap the then 11-day-old baby from the Pah Rd home.

In July Manukau-Togiavalu was jailed for three years for kidnapping, burglary, criminal harassment, making an intimate visual recording and dishonestly using a document.

Taulapapa was discharged without conviction for kidnapping and burglary but ordered to complete 400 hours' community work and pay $2000 reparation to the baby's parents, if they accepted it, or to a children's charity.
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The Crown later challenged the sentence, but the Court of Appeal upheld it.
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The baby's father spoke to the Herald about the ordeal.

"Our world was turned into a living nightmare after Sydnee crept up our back steps, broke into our home wearing a balaclava and kidnapped our newborn baby," he said.

"She had our 11-day-old baby for over seven hours, during which at any time she could have ended our nightmare by returning her to us."

9. The irate mother, the "bully" and the after-school attack caught on camera

In October, Auckland mum Nicola-Jane Jenks lashed out and assaulted a teenage girl who she claimed had been bullying her daughter - grabbing her by the hair and hitting her repeatedly in the face.

But Jenks avoided a conviction, with a District Court judge saying she had made a "bad decision" which should not impact on the rest of her life.

Jenks said she regretted her actions, but felt she had to protect her child.

Nicola-Jane Jenks lashed out and assaulted a teenage girl she believed had been bullying her daughter, then escaped a conviction. Photo / Focus
Nicola-Jane Jenks lashed out and assaulted a teenage girl she believed had been bullying her daughter, then escaped a conviction. Photo / Focus

She said her teenaged daughter had been bullied for some time and it had had a huge effect on her.

On the day of the assault Jenks effectively snapped and fought back in a bid to ease her child's suffering.

She was charged with common assault and, at her first appearance in the Auckland District Court, pleaded guilty.

After the Herald published a story about Jenks' sentence, the mother of the victim came forward with disturbing footage of the attack, showing Jenks repeatedly slapping the victim and screaming obscenities, including calling the girl a "b****" and "sl*t" and telling her: "if you come near (my daughter) or me I will bash you into the middle of next week."

The victim's mother claimed it was her daughter - not Jenks' - that had been bullied and she was "disgusted" the attacker was not convicted for her "nasty" offending.

10. The mental health patient turned murderer

A mental health patient beat a man to death at his Auckland flat just days after being released from hospital.

The Herald then revealed that an external review was conducted on treatment given to the killer - but the findings weren't disclosed to a court hearing his murder trial.

Gabriel Hikari Yad-Elohim was found guilty of murdering Michael David Mulholland by a High Court jury in July.

The Auckland District Health Board's (ADHB) treatment and diagnoses of Yad-Elohim - a man with a history of schizophrenia - in the days before he brutally killed Mulholland came under fire during the trial.

Gabriel Yad-Elohim in the dock during his trial for the murder of Michael Mulholland. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Gabriel Yad-Elohim in the dock during his trial for the murder of Michael Mulholland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Yad-Elohim pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, however the jury did not buy it.

The judge said life imprisonment was appropriate notwithstanding Yad-Elohim's mental health issues.

He, however, accepted Yad-Elohim's psychosis had "clouded" the killer's understanding of his actions at the time of the attack.

Justice van Bohemen also said the decision to release Yad-Elohim from a mental health unit just days before the murder warranted considerable external examination.

Other cases you might be interested in from 2018

Former Shortland street actor Rene Naufahu appears in the Auckland District Court. Photo / Nick Reed
Former Shortland street actor Rene Naufahu appears in the Auckland District Court. Photo / Nick Reed