Jury retires in child assault case

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 15:52 13/03/2014
Peter Moran
WARWICK SMITH/ Fairfax NZ
HUNG JURY: Peter Moran leaving court during his child abuse trial.

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The jury in the retrial of Peter Ross Moran has retired to decide if the man did or did not assault a toddler, leaving it with permanent brain damage.

For the past two weeks, Moran, 24, has been on trial in the High Court at Palmerston North, accused of injuring his former partner's son in a Ruahine St house on the night of May 16, 2011.

He faces one charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and an alternative charge of wounding with reckless disregard for the boy's safety.

The Crown and defence summed up their cases late yesterday and today.

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said the evidence in front of the jury showed Moran was the only person who could have inflicted the injuries.

"Trials are about balance, and sometimes the balance starts to tip.

"The Crown case tips so far, you can be sure about the guilt of the accused."

The defence would try to point the finger at the boy's mother, Renne Robinson, but there was no way it could be her, he said.

While Ms Robinson was asleep during the time the boy was injured, Moran was awake.

There was no way Ms Robinson could get to the boy's room without walking past Moran, Mr Vanderkolk said.

Moran was also stressed, sleep deprived, under pressure due to his studies and sick of the boy, while Ms Robinson had family support when she needed it, he said.

That only left the possibility it was an accident, which Mr Vanderkolk said was unlikely.

The boy, who was able to climb chests of drawers and out windows, was "a survivor" and "a remarkably mobile and active boy", he said.

The boy had climbed out a window and fallen a maximum of two metres days before he suffered his serious injuries.

He suffered concussion, but did not have any brain bleeding.

Paediatrician Niall Kelly told the jury earlier in the trial a fall from that height was unlikely to cause the serious injuries.

Mr Vanderkolk said Moran, despite being awake when the accident allegedly happened, did not talk about hearing a thump when the boy would have fallen.

That only left the jury with the task of deciding Moran's state of mind at the time, he said.

Either Moran had gone into the room with the intent of causing damage to the boy, or he had lashed out in a reckless way, Mr Vanderkolk said.

Defence lawyer Chris Wilkinson-Smith said the jury has to remember what was known for certain.

"We can be sure the boy was found on the floor of the bedroom, unconscious.

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"We can be sure he sustained head injury, and would be deteriorating fast because of that injury. 

"How he got that injury, we simply don't know."

The possibility of it all being an accident was not able to be ruled out, he said.

The boy's behaviour had escalated from climbing on furniture to getting out windows on his own, as well as running out onto the road.

"Yes he is resilient, but he's not immune to having one too many accidents," Mr Wilkinson-Smith said.

The injures could happen from a fall of any height, and there were examples of children falling from smaller heights than objects in the boy's room and suffering serious injuries.

"You might think it is unusual or extremely unlikely, but they happen."

A bump may not have been heard by Moran because his mind was either concentrating on study or watching television.

If the jury thought it was not an accident, they should then think about who was more likely to assault the boy - Ms Robinson or Moran, Mr Wilkinson-Smith said.

While Moran had no criminal convictions for violence and was trusted with other children, Ms Robinson had admitted smacking her child and had also slapped him once on the face.

"When you ask yourself who was more likely to be violent... Ms Robinson wins that race hands down," Mr Wilkinson-Smith said.

"What happened to the boy was done by someone who has lost the plot and lashed out.

"The problem for the Crown is that sounds like Renee, not like Peter."

Ms Robinson was also more stressed than Moran, he said.

She was pregnant, suffering extremely bad morning sickness, had just broken up with Moran, was $1300 behind on the rent and was, effectively, a solo parent to the boy.

"You must apply the same criteria to her as you do to Mr Moran," Mr Wilkinson-Smith said.

Either way, there was no chance that either Moran or Ms Robinson intended to harm the boy, he said.

"At its highest, it was reckless."

Justice Jillian Mallon told the jury of 10 men and two women they should not worry about the result from the first trial when deciding their verdicts.

"You must determine your verdicts on the evidence given in this trial, not on the basis of what happened before."

They also did not have to worry about trying to solve the case, but only had to give verdicts on the evidence, she said.

"It's your job to decide the case, but not because you think someone should be held accountable for it."

- Manawatu Standard

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