By GREGG WYCHERLEY
A Hamilton man who kicked his 12-year-old stepdaughter to death has been convicted of murder.
A High Court jury needed only two hours today to convict Darran Paul Mackness, 35, of the murder of Kelly Paula Gush.
Kelly died in Auckland's Starship Hospital on August 4 after suffering brain injuries inflicted by Mackness when he kicked her twice to the head.
The girl, only 1.5m tall and weighing 26kg, had endured a sad life with her sister, 14-year-old Kylie, spending most of her time at home locked in her spartan bedroom.
The girls' mother, Mackness' former partner Karen Paget, told a depositions hearing in January that the girls' room was locked from the outside and Mackness had nailed the windows shut.
When the girls needed to use the bathroom they knocked on the door, or at night they were left a bucket.
Crown prosecutor Philip Crayton said Mackness, who had martial arts training, kicked Kelly in a fit of anger on August 3 last year after she vomited up her dinner.
The girls had been let out of their room for their dinner of macaroni cheese about 7pm but after a couple of mouthfuls Kelly vomited.
Ms Paget gave her a bucket and mop to clean it up and Mackness shoved Kelly into the bathroom.
While Ms Paget was cleaning up Kelly, Mackness came into the bathroom and kicked the girl twice in the head as she stood in the bath.
He then carried her to her room.
Ms Paget heard a large thump, but by the time she got to Kelly's room the door was locked.
About 11.30pm she heard more thumping coming from Kelly's room and went in to find her lying in vomit and urine.
Kelly was taken to Waikato Hospital then transferred to Starship where she died the next day.
Mr Crayton said Mackness had believed Kelly vomited deliberately and kicked her recklessly, knowing that the attack could prove fatal.
"If you kick a 12-year-old of slight build in the head and temple area what intention could you have other than that blow to the head will strike and cause the most serious of injuries?" he said.
"How much more so if you have knowledge of martial arts?"
He said the attack was the culmination of anger at Mackness' failed attempts to control Kelly, who he had considered "a problem".
Police took Mackness in for questioning after Kelly died, then bugged his house and released him in the hope that the tapes would provide evidence for use in a subsequent prosecution.
During the four-day trial the court heard tapes of Mackness speaking to Ms Paget, where he was heard to say he "deserved to die" following the attack.
"I am the one who deserves to die over this," Mackness said in one of the excerpts.
Defence lawyer David Wilson, QC, had argued that the Crown had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mackness' kicks had been the cause of the fatal injuries.
Mr Wilson said the injuries could have been caused by Kelly falling from a window ledge in her bedroom or slipping on urine onto the wooden floor after the assault.
Even if the jury accepted the assault had caused Kelly's death, Mr Wilson said there was still doubt that Mackness had the "murderous intent" required for a murder conviction.
The jury did not accept his argument.
By GREGG WYCHERLEY