A Tauranga master carver who, it is said has less than two months to live, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years jail on historical sex charges in the High Court in Rotorua yesterday.

The sentencing by Justice Priestley was done in the defendant's absence as Tuti Tukaokao, 71, is dying in Tauranga Hospital of colon cancer and, according to medical reports discussed yesterday, has a life expectancy of less than two months.

"This is in many ways a tragic case," said Justice Priestley. "The prisoner who is terminally ill, is a carver of international repute and had clearly performed valuable service both in the area of his expertise and in other facets of his life."

He went on to say the offending represented a huge loss of mana for Tukaokao.


"As his counsel so colourfully put it, his dark side has caught up with him at the end," the Judge said.

Tukaokao's lawyer Michael Sharp said Tukaokao himself suffered sexual abuse from an uncle when he was very young, and from a very young age he demonstrated perverse sexual tendencies in a number of ways.

Mr Sharp said he spent an hour with Tukaokao on Wednesday. He was on oxygen and seemed to have difficulty finding the strength to concentrate, so he did not have a great deal of success discussing things.

Mr Sharp said he could not obtain Tukaokao's informed consent to be sentenced in his absence. Mr Sharp said he did have agreement to offer Tukaokao's savings of $3000 as reparation to the victims.

Much of the two-hour sentencing hearing yesterday involved legal debate between Justice Priestly, Crown Solicitor Greg Hollister-Jones, and Mr Sharp -- first over whether the Court could sentence in absentia, then whether sentencing should proceed, and how it could be achieved without removing Tukaokao from hospital.

Despite the sentence, Tukaokao is expected to remain in Tauranga Hospital.

Mr Sharp said he had contacted Corrections Minister Matt Robson about Tukaokao's case, but the minister was unable to comment because Tukaokao was not at that stage a sentenced prisoner.

Deferring the sentence for a month was also discussed. The danger there was if Tukaokao should live longer than a month the jail sentence might then have to take effect.

Mr Hollister-Jones sought a four to seven year jail term. At the time the offences were committed the maximum for rape was 14 years instead of the 20 years it is now.

Aggravating features were that his offending had severe effects of the lives of both victims. He questioned whether there was any real remorse or contrition because in the pre-sentence report Tuakoako stated he still acknowledged the pleasure he derived from the sexual activity with the young girls.

The offending to which Tukaokao pleaded guilty involved sexual offending against two sisters over a period of 7-8 years. He pleaded guilty to rape and indecent assault of a girl aged under 12, and three charges of indecent assault.

He was sentenced to five and a half years jail for rape, and four year concurrent terms for the indecent assault charges relating to one of the girls and three-and-a-half year terms for the offending on the other sister. All terms were to be concurrent.

Reparation was set at $2250 for the sister who suffered the most offending, and $750 for the other.

Tukaokao has yet to enter pleas on a second series of historical sex charges that are still in the district court.

A depositions hearing has been adjourned several times because of his illness, and he failed to appear earlier this week when he was expected to enter a plea to reduced charges.

He was expected to enter a plea to a representative charge of indecent assault alleged to have taken place between January 1953 and December 1958.

Judge Callander remanded Tukaokao until June 12, with bail to continue.