Sentence reduced in bar manslaughter case

The judge in a manslaughter case has warned that too many people seem to have a "cartoon world" view of violence.

They seemed to think people could be hit or dropped to the ground and they would be able to just get up, Justice Stephen Kos said.

But the human skull was remarkably fragile, and it was high time that was more widely appreciated, he said yesterday while sentencing former bar manager Kevin King for the manslaughter of Blenheim man Matthew Heagney, 24, in August 2009.

King, 52, and two other staff from Shapeshifters Bar in Blenheim removed Mr Heagney from the premises. During the incident, Mr Heagney's head hit the pavement, causing his death.

In 2010 King was found guilty of manslaughter, but that conviction was quashed on appeal and a retrial was held in the High Court at Wellington last month.

Part way through the retrial King changed his plea to guilty after details of the indictment were altered. The change meant it was no longer alleged Mr Heagney died as a result of an assault, but instead the charge related to the circumstances of King releasing him outside the premises.

Justice Kos yesterday sentenced King to 12 months' home detention, reduced by 39 days to take into account the time King spent on home detention before his appeal. He had also been sentenced to 12 months' home detention after the first trial.

The judge said Mr Heagney had tried to get into Shapeshifters at 2.43am, but the bar had stopped allowing more people in at 2.30am and he was refused entry. He had managed to slip past door staff and spent five minutes inside before trying to leave.

Doorman Cameron Wright-Munro had seen him and tapped him on the shoulder, intending to trespass him. Mr Heagney reacted and took hold of Mr Wright-Munro. There had been a brief struggle and King had put Mr Heagney in a sleeper hold.

King, Wright-Munro and another staff member, Dewy Zuidema, lifted Mr Heagney off the ground and carried him outside. Closed circuit television images showed Zuidema appeared to release his legs. Mr Heagney ended up on the footpath. The back of his head hit the concrete, causing his death, Justice Kos said.

The Crown had said King was aware sleeper holds could reduce consciousness, and that he had dropped a semi-conscious person, who had ceased struggling, on to the footpath. In doing so, King was negligent in his duty to exercise reasonable care, it said.

The defence had said King did not render Mr Heagney semi-conscious, and had dropped him accidentally, partly because Mr Zuidema stumbled, and partly because of a pre-existing weakness in an arm.

Justice Kos said King had no previous convictions, and his pre-sentence report showed he was extremely remorseful. He did not doubt King's remorse, although it could have been offered more readily.

The Dominion Post