'I was raised well' - murder accused

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 06:54 05/06/2014
Steven Rakuraku
JOHN COWPLAND/Fairfax NZ
OWN DEFENCE: Prosecutors allege Steven Rakuraku took control of Johnny Wright's life, beat him regularly and would not let him out of his house. They say the beatings ended with Wright's murder.

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A man defending himself on a charge of murder has opened his case by telling jurors he was "raised well by a good family" and that his ancestors had lived in Hawke's Bay "for hundreds of years".

In the High Court at Napier yesterday, Steven Rakuraku told the jury: "I'm here to stand before you to let you know that of course I know I'm not guilty . . . I'm no lawyer but I'm going to try my best and I hope that you do your best to be fair and impartial . . . "

Rakuraku faces 12 charges, relating to four victims in 2010 and 2011 - including the murder of Hastings man Johnny Wright.

The Crown alleges that Rakuraku, 39, detained Wright and beat him to death in mid-2011.

Police found Wright's body in August 2011 after a tip-off led them to search a rural site near Napier.

In his opening address before Justice Joe Williams, crown lawyer Steve Manning said Rakuraku "dominated, manipulated, controlled, intimidated and beat all four [victims] - one of them to the point that he died".

Manning said the case was about the vulnerability of the victims, but also "an element of paranoia on the part of Mr Rakuraku" who was wanted by police at the time of the alleged offending.

Quiet and shy, Wright was a much-loved son, uncle and brother. He suffered mental health problems but lived independently and had good support. He was "particularly vulnerable", Manning said.

The Crown alleges that Rakuraku took control of every aspect of Wright's life, including his phone, finances and appointments. He beat Wright regularly and would not let him out of his house, Manning said.

The beatings got worse in the last 10 days of Wright's life and ended with his murder. Manning said a pathologist would tell the court that Wright's ribs were fractured in 36 places and he died because he was unable to breathe.

He said a forensic scientist had identified blood in the flat, despite "a determined effort" by Rakuraku after Wright had died "to paint the flat and to wipe it down with bleach to get rid of traces of blood".

Wright was so badly injured that he began wetting himself, and he could not stand unassisted.

Rakuraku's girlfriend would on occasion stitch up his ears with a needle and thread after they had been split from the beatings.

Wright was unable to leave the house and suffered numerous beatings, including one involving a taiaha.

On the day Wright died, June 23, 2011, Manning said Rakuraku's girlfriend reported hearing him go into Wright's room. She heard "a loud thud" and Rakuraku saying "get up".

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She and Rakuraku went into town and returned later in the day. Wright was found dead on a couch.

Rakuraku wrapped up Wright's body, drove to rural Waipunga Rd near Napier and buried his body in a shallow grave, Manning said.

His body was found two months later when the girlfriend "came clean" and took police to the grave.

The other charges relate to a man befriended by Rakuraku and allegedly forced to drive him to Hawke's Bay, another man allegedly forced to give him money, and his own girlfriend. Rakuraku allegedly beat them all.

While defending himself, Rakuraku will be assisted by Russell Fairbrother, QC, and Leo Lafferty, who will act as amicus curiae for the trial, which is expected to run for four weeks. Amicus curiae can assist the court by pointing out matters of law.

- The Dominion Post

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