'Travesty of justice' no comfort for family

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
Christine Wikaira
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

NEEDS NOT MET: Christine Wikaira feels let down by the justice system over the killing of her son.

Millanta
VICTIM: Slain teen Izak Millanta.

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The grieving mother of slain Kapiti teen Izak Wikaira Millanta has lashed out at the justice system, which she says gives killers more rights than their victims.

Christine Wikaira said she believed two men attacked her son, not one, and her family's efforts to reveal the truth had been blocked by police and coroner services. She also expressed concern about the rights of a victim's family to a lawyer and legal aid.

"Through this investigation we have realised that the truth does not always prevail, that knowledge of what really happened cannot always be supported by acceptable evidence, that the justice system protects and rewards offenders while obstructing any effort by victims to reveal the truth," Ms Wikaira said.

"Throughout this process, I have felt like everything was a battle where my family's needs were not met. My family and I feel very let down by the justice system of this country."

Manawanui Rerewhaitarangi Stewart, 26, was sentenced to six years in prison when he appeared in the High Court at Wellington yesterday. He had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter, assault with intent to injure and assault in relation to three separate incidents on the night of Izak's fatal bashing in August last year.

The 17-year-old was found lying unresponsive in a car park at Coastlands mall, Paraparaumu, after he was chased, pushed to the ground and stomped on.

Paramedics fought to save him for nearly an hour before he was taken to Wellington Hospital for emergency surgery. He died in the early hours of August 12.

Ms Wikaira described her son as a compassionate and empathetic leader who was wise beyond his years. "He stood up to bullies and protected others from them, and in the end they beat him to death for refusing to be afraid.

"The decision not to charge anyone with murder and to only charge one of the two men present remains inexplicable to us."

She could not understand why no arrests were made on the night of the attack, even though police had been given the names of both men involved. Early arrests could have provided crucial forensic evidence, she said.

The family had been refused the right to review the autopsy, which drew no conclusion about Izak's fatal injuries and how they were caused, she said.

Police reiterated yesterday that they would consider any new information that came to light.

Outside court, Stewart's mother, Cushla Goodman, denied her son was a bully.

"He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time . . ."

Ms Wikaira said the sentence gave the family no comfort. "It is a travesty of justice."

JUDGE SLAMS BULLY FOR BRUTAL KILLING

It was a brutal attack on a teenager for the most trivial of reasons.

Justice Ron Young said Manawanui Stewart transformed into an aggressive bully when he was drunk. He had previous convictions for serious violence and had already been given chances to address the problem.

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On the night he attacked Izak Millanta, Stewart had been drinking and had punched two other men before he took exception to Izak laughing at him during another altercation near the Retro Bar, Justice Young said.

Stewart and a friend chased Izak through an alleyway into the Coastlands car park.

"Izak tried to get away, yelling at you that he was sorry and to leave him alone."

Stewart caught up to him after about 280 metres and pushed him to the ground. He then pinned him down and punched him more than once in the face before his friend told him to let him go.

Stewart got off Izak and then stomped on his abdomen. He kept his foot on him, digging his heel in and leaning forward to put a substantial amount of his body weight on Izak's abdomen.

"You told him that he deserved what he got because of the way he had behaved," the judge said.

Stewart then put Izak in the recovery position and left him clutching his abdomen and moaning in pain. An autopsy showed Izak died from blunt impact trauma to his torso and head, with a cut liver, internal bleeding and a broken nose.

The police summary of facts states that Stewart told police he wanted to "teach him a lesson" but had no idea his actions would lead to the teenager's death.

Justice Young said Izak was killed in a "brutal attack on a young man for the most trivial of reasons. It seems clear that you get intoxicated and this turns you into a bully.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this was a serious, violent, persistent attack."

POLICE MADE BAR 'SCAPEGOAT'

The former owner of Retro Bar says it was not to blame for the deaths of two young men nearby, and was used as a scapegoat by authorities.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the killings of Izak Millanta and Sean Strongman-Lintern, Mark Spiekerman criticised police, who he believed could have done more to patrol the area and clear drunks outside the bar after they were ejected.

"To me it's a policing problem," he said.

"It doesn't take much to move people on, but the police need some presence.

"The problem is never inside the bar, it's outside the bar. I was fighting an uphill battle [from the beginning]."

Retro Bar, at Kapiti Lights in Paraparaumu, came under an unwelcome spotlight after the deaths of Izak, 17, in August, and Mr Strongman-Lintern, 20, in September. Both were attacked in car parks near the bar.

In December, the Liquor Licensing Authority decided not to renew the bar's on-licence. Police described it to the authority as a "drinking den" and one of the worst bars in the Wellington district. The bar was forced to close after the decision.

Mr Spiekerman said liquidating the bar, as opposed to selling it, had cost him $300,000, and 16 staff had lost their jobs.

"Between them [police] and the council, they needed a scapegoat, which was us, and they got exactly what they were after.

"As far as I'm concerned, the two deaths in Kapiti had nothing to do with the Retro Bar."

There was a culture of drinking and violence in the area, which needed to be addressed, he said. "If they're not looking at the core problem, just doing something to keep the public happy, someone else is going to die as well."

PUBLIC REACTION TO KAPITI DEATHS

After the deaths of Izak Millanta and Sean Strongman-Lintern, police increased their presence in the Kapiti Lights area.

In conjunction with the council, a district-wide ban on drinking liquor was introduced in public places.

Kapiti Coast District Council has also installed more lighting and sensors in the area, and encouraged shop owners to keep their properties clean and graffiti-free.

The area's 9pm-6am temporary alcohol ban was introduced late last year, and a new bylaw will come before the council next month.

The death of Mr Strongman-Lintern in the Kapiti Lights vicinity, only five weeks after Izak was fatally bashed, shocked the community and sparked an immediate response to prevent further violence and deaths.

Mayor Jenny Rowan said at the time that "serious incidents like these are seldom random."

"Police have reported a small but really ugly culture of young men hooked on drinking, drug-taking and fighting in Kapiti".

GUN STRUGGLE

It can now be revealed that, on December 9, 2011, Manawanui Stewart chased a man who had come after him with a loaded .303 rifle. The man wanted revenge for Stewart helping to evict him from the Retro Bar.

Stewart had helped his cousin, a doorman at the bar, remove two patrons, a Wellington District Court judge heard last December.

When confronted by the evicted men, Stewart took on the man with the rifle, grabbing hold of it and struggling with him.

The gunman retreated in a car but Stewart ran after it and a shot was fired out the door into the air.

The sentencing judge said Stewart had made "a singular error of judgment" chasing the gunman and suppressed Stewart's name until the charges against him were finalised.

Contact Blair Ensor
Police reporter
Email: blair.ensor@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @blairensor

- The Dominion Post

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