A jury has found a Black Power gang member not guilty of attempting to murder another man belonging to a different chapter who was the victim of a near-fatal stabbing in 2019.
Cruz Sonny Fruean, whose trial began in the High Court at Tauranga on February 9 was today
acquitted by a jury on an attempted murder charge and an alternative charge of causing grievous bodily harm to Wetini Ranapia.
During his closing address today, Fruean's lawyer Fraser Wood told the jury that the Crown's principal witnesses' identification evidence was "weak" and "highly unreliable".
The Crown charges against Fruean stemmed from the near-fatal stabbing of Ranapia with a large knife at a Hotene St property in Whakatāne on the evening of May 10, 2019.
The jury heard evidence that Ranapia, 42, required emergency surgery at Whakatāne Hospital after he was stabbed in the upper left chest and through his heart.
Ranapia nearly died several times, and he was "clinically dead" for two minutes before his heart began beating again, Crown prosecutor Oliver Salt earlier said.
The stabbing took place after Ranapia and three male relatives attended a family tangi in the town and then visited a local Turf Bar the same afternoon.
The Crown said while Ranapia and his relatives were visiting the address to buy or consume drugs, it was Fruean who poked his head through a bedroom window and told Ranapia he wanted to talk to him outside.
Salt said Ranapia and Fruean, who are from different chapters of the Black Power, got into a heated exchange outside the house and Fruean threatened to kill him.
The Crown also alleged Fruean, a senior member of the Black Power Tumana chapter, took exception to Ranapia's relatives wearing red shoes and confronted him about it, he said.
Ranapia's three relatives gave evidence that Fruean threatened to harm them and their families if they told the police he was responsible for Ranapia's injuries, he said.
Fruean's partner told the jury that when she arrived home from a family birthday party about 7pm that night, Fruean was already at the house after attending a training session.
She said neither she nor Fruean left the house between 7pm and 8pm and it was about 8.10pm when she popped out to a nearby supermarket for only three or four minutes.
The witness said about 8.30pm a male associate of Fruean's arrived in a Toyota Hilux in a stressed state and the two men left together, but Fruean was only gone about 10 minutes.
Crown prosecutor Duncan McWilliam put to Fruean's partner that she had called the accused at 7.13pm to find out where he was so he could not have been home.
McWilliam also suggested that the witness had discussed with Fruean on June 3, 2019 about the importance of him being at home before 7.30pm, the time stabbing took place.
But Fruean's partner denied calling him and insisted that Fruean was at home with her at that time and never left the house until about 8.30pm.
During his closing address, McWilliam told the jury that when they considered all of the evidence, including all the circumstantial evidence, they would have no difficulty in finding Fruean guilty of the attempted murder charge.
McWilliam urged the jury to put Fruean's partner's evidence to one side describing it as a "recreation" of actually what happened that night.
It was her failed attempt to try and persuade the jury that her partner was with her the whole time during the stabbing, he said.
McWilliam said Ranapia's three relatives had identified Fruean, one who had picked him out from a police photo montage four days after the stabbing.
Two others gave evidence they would "never forget" the tattooed attacker's eyes, he said.
McWilliam said a Toyota Hilux parked near the house where the attack took place was regularly driven by Fruean, and police found a parking ticket for it at his home that night.
One of those relatives also gave evidence that Ranapia's attacker identified himself as Cruz and also told him that he was the Tumana chapter's sergeant-in-arms, he said.
"I suggest to you that no one else but the defendant is guilty of attempted murder, and it was Fruean, who made threats to Mr Ranapia's three relatives," McWilliam said.
During his closing statements to the jury, Fruean's lawyer Fraser Wood said there was "no evidence whatsoever which linked him to the crime scene nor to the stabbing".
Wood said the Crown's three key witnesses did not see Ranapia get stabbed.
He said Ranapia's evidence was also unhelpful as he had no recollection of being stabbed and was only offered the defendant's name by others after the accused's arrest.
Wood said the Crown's principal witnesses' evidence was "highly unreliable" including evidence from one who was intoxicated and "stoned" at the time of the stabbing.
He also said this witness accepted when challenged during cross-examination that he could have been mistaken in identifying Fruean.
"His identification evidence was so poor, so unreliable that you cannot convict Mr Fruean."
Wood said despite the Crown's attempt to discredit Fruean's partner's evidence that he was at home between 7pm and 8pm, there was nothing linking him to the stabbing.
There was no DNA, no fingerprints nor other evidence at the crime scene, he said.
Wood said it was clear that the police had taken a "blinkered approach" in charging Fruean and failed to make any other inquiries to eliminate other people as the stabber.
Someone must be held responsible for the terrible near-fatal injuries to Ranapia but the Crown had the wrong man on trial, he said.
Wood also reminded the jury that another Crown witness gave evidence that she did not recognise the person who poked his head through her window.
This witness confirmed she had met Fruean earlier, he said.
Wood stressed several times to the jury the importance of putting aside any feelings of prejudice against Fruean because he was a gang member.
He said it would also be wrong to be influenced by feelings of sympathy for Ranapia.
Wood said his client did not have to prove anything, the burden of proof lay with the Crown who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Fruean was guilty.
The jury took under an hour to come back with not guilty verdicts on both charges.