The man accused of the manslaughter of his stepfather has given a vivid account of how the man he considered "his awesome dad" turned into a snarling bear, bearing his teeth, biting at him and sexually assaulting him.
Taratoa Hori Hokianga told a jury in the High Court at Rotorua yesterday afternoon how, what had begun as a happy drinking session in the garage of his home in Rotorua's Susan St, turned chaotic. This culminated in him fending off his stepfather by putting a hand around his neck "for no more than 10 seconds".
When his trial began on Monday Hokianga, a rigger, now aged 39, denied causing 66-year-old Niwhai Bryan's manslaughter by an unlawful act, defined in the charge as an assault.
Hokianga took the witness stand where, sometimes cocking with emotion, he described how he and his stepfather had been having an "awesome" time hugging and laughing as they drank two bottles of duty-free whisky Bryan had brought when he returned home from Australia that day.
Earlier the court heard Bryan, who was suffering from terminal bone cancer, had come home to die.
Hokianga said although he was pretty drunk his memory of what happened in the garage that November night last year was "pretty bang on".
He testified that suddenly everything changed, Bryan stood up, came to where he was sitting, knelt on one knee and put his hand up his shorts.
"He was playing with my nuts, I was confused, I was saying 'what the hell? What the f*** are you doing?' I slapped his hand away, he wouldn't stop. He tried to put his hand into my mouth, I slapped it away, he wouldn't stop."
He said he whacked Bryan sending him flying across the room where he lay sprawled on the ground.
'When he got up he was p****d off, he just turned ugly, came at me with his teeth showing . . . I felt like he was going to eye-gouge me.
"I was still sitting down, I gave him an elbow to his forehead but that didn't stop him, he just turned ugly, he was like a bloody bear, he was growling, he had his teeth showing."
Hokianga said Bryan was attempting to bite him saying "f*** you, Tuts, f*** you, he was going grrrrr." The jury learned Tuts was Hokianga's nickname.
He described the pair of them wrestling while Bryan continued to try and bite him.
"I grabbed him from behind to stop him, he was still struggling, my hand slipped up to his neck, by then I was just holding him with one arm, protecting myself with the other."
He told his lawyer Brian Foote he grabbed Bryan because he wanted him to stop.
"I wasn't angry, I was stunned . . . I only had my hand around his neck about 10 seconds, I can't tell you how hard it was."
Bryan stopped fighting and moving, leaving Hokianga confused.
"When he wasn't responding I knelt down saying 'f*** get up', I couldn't think after that."
Questioned by Crown prosecutor Duncan McWilliam. Hokianga confirmed he was a far bigger man than his stepfather, agreeing he was frail and unwell.
He claimed the sexual touching came out of the blue leaving him stunned and shocked.
He was unable to say how he ended up behind Bryan.
"It just happened, then I spun him around."
Asked if he was telling the jury he'd put Bryan in a headlock because he was defending himself Hokianga's response was "yes".
He said he'd squeezed Bryan's neck region to stop his attack on him.
Both lawyers made brief closing arguments to the jury. McWilliam claimed the only possible verdict was one of manslaughter, urging them to note Hokianga had no physical injuries after what he'd described to family members as an altercation.
Foote urged the jury to return a not guilty verdict, saying Hokianga had been acting in self-defence and had been freaked out by the sexual advances made towards him, coupled with Bryan's subsequent behaviour.
Justice Mathew Downs will sum up today before the jury retires to consider its verdict.