'Chewbacca' court defence fails

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014

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A New Plymouth jury did not believe a man who appeared to use the O J Simpson "Chewbacca defence" when he said it wasn't him who carried out a violent attack on an Eltham man and his wife.

Tamati Thomas, 33, unemployed of New Plymouth, had argued that police got the wrong man.

The victim, Wayne Waller, ended up in intensive care at Taranaki Base Hospital with head injuries on July 20. His wife, Erin Toopi, suffered a shattered knee and bruising.

Several adults, including Thomas' former partner, Stacey Nolly, had been drinking at Waller and Toopi's son's birthday party at their home during the day and into the night.

Police failed to identify a second man involved in the attack.

Thomas told the court that the attack must have involved his uncle, Nicky Coleman, who died in September last year and his mate with the nickname Chewbacca, a character in Starwars.

Wikipedia describes the Chew bacca defence as a red herring used to confuse the jury. It was originally used by the defence in the O J Simpson murder trial and satirised in a South Park television programme.

In Thomas' case, several defence witnesses gave evidence in the New Plymouth District Court that he was at home at the time police believed he carried out the attack.

Toopi identified Thomas from photos shown to her by police but admitted to the court last week that she was not 100 per cent sure it was Thomas.

After about four hours' deliberation yesterday, the jury returned with guilty verdicts on the most serious charges.

They found Thomas guilty of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, injuring with intent, breaching a protection order and threatening to cause grievous bodily harm.

The jury found him not guilty of two counts of assault with a weapon (the butt of a knife) and threatening to cause grievous bodily harm.

The Crown case was that Thomas became angry with Stacey Nolly, his former partner and mother of their two young boys, after she texted him to say she found a singlet belonging to him among her belongings.

He texted her saying it was not his.

Evidence was given of expletive-ridden texts sent from Thomas' phone.

The texts included threats from Thomas to Nolly that he was coming down to Eltham, that he would wreck her car and go out with a bang.

Thomas was arrested at his New Plymouth home just before midnight.

Giving evidence in his own defence, Thomas told his lawyer, Susan Hughes, QC, that his uncle, Nicky Coleman, came to visit him along with his friend on July 20.

Thomas said he knew his uncle's friend only by his nickname, Chewbacca.

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Thomas said his uncle and Chewbacca were stopping in to the Eltham house on his behalf to see how Thomas' kids were "and they must have got jumped or something".

Following the verdicts last night, Judge John Macdonald convicted Thomas, remanding him in custody until August 29 for sentence and handed him down a three strikes warning.

Crown solicitor Cherie Clarke said the strike would be Thomas' second.

The judge also called for a pre-sentence report and victim impact statements.

Another charge Thomas was facing, of male assaults female, was dismissed during the trial.

- Taranaki Daily News

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