Deadly curse verdict: five found guilty

Last updated 05:00 13/06/2009

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A jury has convicted the "papa" of the Rawiri whanau and four of his sisters of the manslaughter of their niece Janet Moses in a curse-lifting ritual.

Angry sobs greeted the verdicts at 10pm in the High Court at Wellington last night. Janet Moses' mother, Olivia Rawiri, was among the inconsolable family crying in the foyer.

As family retreated from media, one shouted the "law stands for lies".

The jury spent nearly 21 hours considering its verdicts before delivering them to a packed public gallery, mainly of extended family members.

The jury foreman's hands shook as he delivered the 10 verdicts. John Rawiri, known in the family as Papa, and his sisters Glenys Wright, Aroha Wharepapa, Angela Orupe and Tanginoa Apanui were found guilty.

Another sister, Gaylene Kepa, and her husband, Alfred Kepa, were acquitted, as was Hall (Horo) Wharepapa.

Two people whose names were suppressed were acquitted of allowing a 14-year-old girl in their care to be ill-treated.

During the six-week trial the jury was told that Ms Moses' family had gathered round her when she became ill in October 2007. The Crown said she had an emerging mental illness but the family thought she had a makutu, or curse, as a result of the theft of a concrete lion from a Wairarapa pub about two weeks earlier.

But the ritual of blessings and prayers descended over about four days into an intense, chaotic, improvised ceremony to drive demons from Ms Moses and other family members who were also thought to be possessed.

Ms Moses drowned and the 14-year-old girl's eyes were injured as people picked at the demons they saw in them.

Charlie Moses, Janet's paternal grandfather, said before the verdicts were delivered that the end of the case, no matter what the outcome, would let her spirit find peace. "At least when they [get] the verdict she'll be at peace. Then we can get on with our lives, all of us."

He declined to speak after the verdicts. At first, he said, he felt hatred toward the family members who performed the fatal ritual, but hatred had been replaced by regret and sadness.

"We've made our peace with them. They didn't know what they were doing, even though I told them not to go down that road.

"They chose to do it anyway. For that mistake ... they're going to pay for the rest of their lives. I wish them well all the same."

On the night of the curse-lifting ceremony he had stopped his granddaughter's former partner, Andre Lambert, from entering the house an action he now deeply regrets, as he believes he would have tried to stop the ceremony.

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"He could have saved her life. I made the mistake of keeping him out of that room. That's one mistake I badly regret."

Justice Simon France remanded the convicted five on bail to be sentenced on August 14.

- The Dominion Post

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