Judge jails tavern ninja

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 16:30 09/11/2012

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A man who dressed up as a ninja and threatened patrons with a firearm at Waikato's Taupiri Tavern has been jailed for 18 months.

Michael Lawrence Stark, 20, admitted 15 charges including unlawfully taking a tractor, wilful damage, demanding with menace, burglary, theft and unlawful possession of a firearm after incidents spanning several months.

The most recent spate occurred over August 24 and 25.

On the Friday, Stark had been drinking at a mate's house when he left, grabbing a .22 rifle, silencer and scope and carry bag with ammunition on the way.

He went on a graffiti spree, tagging a cowshed of his uncle's, a road sign owned by the Waikato District Council, a cottage, shed and tractor owned by his grandfather. He also broke into his grandparent's home, and stole some ammunition.

He then stole his grandfather's $80,000 tractor, knocking over two road signs including the Welcome to Taupiri sign before parking up at the Taupiri Tavern, where he sprayed graffiti on the tractor with words including "The first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club."

He also graffitied the Tavern along with the nearby fish and chip shop.

The next night, Stark donned a ninja mask and was clad all in black when he went back to the Taupiri Tavern armed with the .22 calibre rifle and silencer.

He then approached a man in the carpark, where he pointed the rifle at him and demanded his money.

Stark then turned the gun on a group sitting at a nearby picnic table and demanded their cash saying "put your money on the table" before firing three shots in the air saying: "I'm f****** serious."

He continued to point his firearm at one of the victims as they walked inside the tavern to call police, threatening him that he would shoot each time.

Judge David Ruth said it was lucky he was not dealing with a murder case, given the terrifying situation the victims went through.

Stark's mother, Theresa, and grandmother, Eileen Stark, spoke just before Judge Ruth handed down his sentence.

Mrs Stark said their family had been expecting this "train wreck" to happen for some time, after her son was diagnosed as depressed from age 9.

"Michael lived with us up until his behaviour was no longer tolerable."

Mrs Stark said they endured verbal abuse for years, with Michael most recently "miserable, unhappy and abusive", while the Tavern incident had left the family "deeply scarred".

She said the family had tried to seek help for her son's mental health, alcohol and gambling problems for years and pleaded for Judge Ruth to make a court order for it happen while he was in jail.

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One of the victims from the tavern also spoke in court and of the effects the incident had had on everybody there at the time, including many young children.

In sentencing Stark to 18 months prison, Judge Ruth gave him credit for his previous good character and age.

"You have come to court quite spectacularly, but on the other hand it is your first offence."

On release, Stark was also ordered to undertake any counselling or treatment for his  alcohol issues.

Afterwards, Mrs Stark said she was pleased with the sentence but hoped it would help him.

"He does have a debt to pay to society because he does need help and the Judge ordered that as well."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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