Drugs could be McDonald's defence

Last updated 23:37 26/01/2009

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A drug binge could form part of the legal defence of a man accused of sparking the events that led to the police shooting of Halatau Naitoko.

Stephen Hohepa McDonald, 50, was high on methamphetamine during Friday's rampage in Auckland, in which Mr Naitoko was fatally shot by police in crossfire on the Northwestern Motorway, according to his lawyer, Roger Chambers.

It was more than two days before McDonald realised someone had been killed, Mr Chambers said yesterday.

"There were tears trickling down his face. He was very upset when I told him the news and he is very quiet at the moment. He is sincerely upset that an innocent person has died. "The enormity of events has led him to be very reflective, that's putting it gently."

McDonald faced 29 charges when he appeared in Auckland District Court yesterday and was remanded in custody till February 5.

Mr Chambers said the only events McDonald recalled were being arrested and feeling sore after a bullet grazed his back. "He has no recollection of the car chase or anything. I have got no reason to disbelieve him." The fact McDonald was "drugged up" on methamphetamine would explain his lack of understanding and knowledge of the tragedy, he said. His client's state could be used as a defence in court. "Criminal law is all about intent. If someone gets accused of a crime and says they have no recollection, it can afford a defence."

But Law Society criminal law committee head Jonathan Krebs said anyone who voluntarily took drugs then committed a crime could not use drug intoxication as a legal defence, though it could be a mitigating factor.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad announced last night he was returning to New Zealand from Bougainville and would meet Mr Naitoko's grieving family.

Three separate investigations into the death were being started.

Former drug lab detective Mike Sabin, who heads methamphetamine educators MethCon Group, said "P" users were acutely aware of what they were doing at the time, but it was common to have little or no memory of their actions. It appeared McDonald was "tweaking" coming down after days of bingeing and would have suffered sleep deprivation, intense paranoia, and lost rational judgment.

"Police chasing them is their worst nightmare. They often have delusions and hallucinate. Anyone in that state is going to be ... virtually impossible to reason with.

"The fight or flight instinct becomes overpowering. They will run and run and won't let anyone get in the way. They stop at nothing and there are tragic outcomes."

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Sensible Sentencing Trust's Garth McVicar said it was no excuse to blame drugs for a criminal's actions. "We all know the consequences of taking drugs and it shouldn't be allowed to come up in a courtroom at all. The police are going to take a hiding over this but the offender's the one who should be getting clobbered."

WHAT IS P?

* P, or pure methamphetamine, is a central nervous system stimulant made from pseudoephedrine.

* It stimulates the brain to release the "pleasure" chemical dopamine. A normal "high" without drugs releases 100 units and a cocaine buzz about 400 units. P releases about 1250.

* It creates euphoria or sense of invincibility that can last for up to 12 hours, but can cause paranoia, sleeplessness for days, agitation and hallucinations.

THE CHARGES

Stephen Hohepa McDonald, 50, unemployed, of New Lynn, faced 29 charges in Auckland District Court yesterday:

* Ten charges of using a firearm against police.

* Four of converting a motor vehicle.

* Four of aggravated burglary.

* Three of failing to stop.

* Three of reckless driving.

* Three of driving while forbidden.

* Unlawful possession of a firearm.

* Carrying a firearm with intent.

- The Dominion Post

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