Teen stabbed man in self-defence - jury

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 09:00 22/02/2014

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A jury took less than an hour to find a Palmerston North teenager not guilty of a knife attack on a gang member, instead deciding he stabbed the man in self-defence.

Te Reiha Smaling, 18, heard the verdict in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday after a three-day trial involving allegations of gang tensions and love triangles, which boiled down to one question - is it reasonable to stab someone in self-defence?

Both sides agreed Smaling headed to the home of his former girlfriend Tia Tawharu on the evening of June 22 last year, and became angry when he saw Judah Stevens at the Alexander St property.

Mr Stevens and Smaling faced off on the street, with Smaling holding a pair of big hedge clippers.

The two went their separate ways, but soon met again on the same street.

In the meantime, Smaling had discarded the clippers and armed himself with a flick knife - a move he said was a precaution, as he thought he could use it to scare off Mr Stevens or any of his friends.

Mr Stevens, who admitted being part of the Crips gang, had gone to a house where its leader was, before the two of them and another person got in a car and drove to the street.

When Mr Stevens spotted Smaling, he chased him. Smaling flicked out the knife while running, but kept it in his hoodie pocket.

When he slipped outside Miss Tawharu's home, he turned and thrust the blade into Mr Stevens' left armpit, severing his radial nerve and leaving the 21-year-old with limited use of his wrist and hand.

That, however, was as far as agreements went between the Crown and defence.

Crown prosecutor Daniel Flinn told the jury Smaling was jealous about the sexual relationship Miss Tawharu and Mr Stevens had.

"Often, jealousy and anger go hand in hand." That anger was why Smaling had armed himself with the knife when he went back to Miss Tawharu's house.

"He knows there is going to be a confrontation between the two, if he goes back there," Mr Flinn said. "He took that knife because he knew he might have to use it."

Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman said there was no evidence Smaling was jealous, despite the fact he said he still had feelings for Miss Tawharu.

He had never wanted to have a fight with Mr Stevens, who had been the aggressor throughout, Mr Steedman said. As using the hedge clippers had kept Mr Stevens at bay, Smaling grabbed the knife on the same basis.

"It can hurt, just like the hedge clippers. They were to prevent any serious harm, just in case he had bad luck and ran into Judah or his friends.

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"Unfortunately, his luck wasn't good."

Mr Steedman said using the knife was a last resort, as Mr Stevens thought Smaling was a member of rival gang the Mongrel Mob and was threatening to kill him.

"He thought, ‘I didn't have a chance, I did what I did because he was threatening me and saying I was going to die'." The jury agreed, finding Smaling not guilty on both the wounding charge and an alternative charge of assault with a weapon.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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