Summing up the prosecution case against Chris Kahui for the murder of his twin babies last week, Simon Moore QC reminded jurors that the trial was "not a popularity contest". "If it was, I would vow Macsyna King would lose it," he said.
The jury's emphatic verdicts not guilty, on all counts, delivered after an hour's lunch break and just 10 minutes of formal deliberations suggested Moore had it half-right.
The trial did become a sort of perverse popularity contest, if the battle to come across as the less likely murderer of two babies could be described in those terms. In the jurors' eyes, King, the mother of murdered twins Chris and Cru Kahui, had lost.
From the moment she took the witness stand in the trial's first week, King was clearly the biggest monster in the room. Defence counsel Lorraine Smith, who founded her argument on the suggestion that someone other than Kahui, probably King, was the killer, was able to comfortably cast reasonable doubt over his guilt.
Whereas Kahui, 23, consistently came across in evidence as little more than the timid, submissive man he appeared on the surface, King was revealed as one of the more poisonous figures to have come to public prominence in recent memory.
The 31-year-old's four surviving children were cared for by others, and she did not visit them. She had been conspicuously absent from the neonatal ward where her premature twins spent their first weeks, and was apparently just as uninterested when their fatal injuries were discovered, heading with Kahui to McDonald's for half an hour before seeking medical treatment. She had cared for the infants under the influence of P.
King was a convicted fraudster, car thief and burglar, and a domineering, violent bully. She was promiscuous; the jury heard that there had been question marks over the paternity of the twins, but not that King had also had sexual relationships with both Chris Kahui's father, Banjo, and with one of Chris's female relatives.
King was a mother who had suffered the loss of two babies, yet it was hard to feel any sympathy for her. The twins had sustained injuries multiple fractured ribs, and in Chris's case, a head injury weeks before the fatal wounds were inflicted. As their principal caregiver, King had either never noticed, or never sought help for them.
There were allegations (which she denied) that she had threatened those who assisted the police inquiry. At a function following the twins' tangi, she made a drunken mess of herself, hit on a female guest, and was asked to leave, prompting Kahui to angrily accuse her of not caring about the babies' deaths; the defence alleged she was found outside shortly afterwards kissing Kahui's teenage brother (King denied this too).
"It's natural to feel some disgust about some of these things," said Moore. It was not too strong a word. By almost any measure, King's adult years had been a spectacular failure.
As you might expect, King did not have an easy childhood. Her half-sister, Denise King, a Christchurch bar worker, describes Macsyna's upbringing as dysfunctional, with an alcoholic, often absent, mother whose life strikingly foreshadowed the course Macsyna's adult years would take.
Denise and Macsyna King share a father, the late Mac King, a Mangere mechanic and motorcycle gang member who had 10 children, including Denise, before fathering four more with Macsyna's mother: Macsyna, Emily, Stuart and Ellen.
Denise and her sister, Fiona, were adopted out in a traditional whaangai arrangement but returned to live with Mac in their early teens, when Macsyna's mother had left the family. The two girls looked after their infant half-siblings in the mother's absence.
"Their mother pissed off for bloody years. We had no schooling for quite some time," recalls Denise. She said Macsyna's mother was in and out of her children's lives. Her absence made their father, a drinker who often accepted a crate of beer as payment for fixing a car, a tormented and occasionally violent man.
"Our father was so disturbed for most of his life," says Denise. "It was because his missus was mucking around. She mucked around with my father and then went with members of my father's family."
The young Macsyna was pretty, "very intelligent", and spoiled, reflected in the fact she carried a modified form of her father's name.
But Denise didn't get on with her stepmother. Once, after answering her back, Denise received a vicious beating from her father with a vacuum cleaner pipe as her stepmother laughed. It split the webbing of her fingers, where a visible scar remains.
After the incident, Denise ran away, and became a ward of the state. Her half-siblings grew up in Mangere, then, when Macsyna was in her teens, moved to Wairoa, where their mother's family hailed from. Macsyna attended Wairoa College, where she met Kevin Te Kahu, and the pair had a son and a daughter, now aged 13 and 11. Te Kahu was a good man, says Denise.
But the parenting patterns Macsyna had observed in her mother soon asserted themselves. Te Kahu did not want to comment on the trial, but told the Star-Times in 2006 that the couple had split in 1999, when Macsyna "got a taste for the party life". He had raised the children on his own since then. His children had not seen their mother since she left; she called once, about seven years ago, to apologise "for being a bad mother".
Macsyna, who was working as a waitress, then took up with Gerald Ashby, a Napier forklift driver, and had another daughter, now eight. Macsyna was unfaithful to him, and, in June 2001, when Ashby found her "messing around with another guy" in Huntly, having left their daughter in the care of strangers, he took her and his daughter hostage at gunpoint and led 14 police cars and a helicopter on a 45-minute chase. Police eventually negotiated their safe release and Ashby served nearly three years.
Ashby's mother took custody of the girl until her son's release, and Macsyna had no further contact with the child. Ashby said he believed Macsyna's behaviour was influenced by her own mother's example.
Around the time of the hostage situation, Macsyna's mother committed suicide. It naturally had a devastating effect on the siblings; it was the "turning point", says Denise. They moved up to Auckland, and things started falling apart.
"Before that, they all at least had their own individual lives; they were working, formed relationships, and everyone was quite happy." Since their mother's death, says Denise, "they've floated around, made babies here and there". There have been brushes with the law; Macsyna had a stint in jail in 2004, and her youngest sister Ellen is serving time for aggravated robbery, kidnap and burglary.
Macsyna, with her handsome looks and dominant personality, has always found it easy to get by through attaching herself to "men she can rule", according to Denise; when issues arise, she moves on.
In 2004, Macsyna, now an office worker, met Kahui's father Banjo, and through him, the 19-year-old Kahui. He was a quiet, unassuming young man who had left high school at 15, and was working for his cousin's furniture recovering business. He had never been in trouble with the law. Macsyna was his first real girlfriend.
"I saw it straight away, she was just using him as a toy boy," Kahui's mother, Gwen Hetaraka, told a newspaper. Macsyna became pregnant, and moved into the Kahui family home. She gave birth to another son, Shayne, then became pregnant again with the twins.
During this time she began attending "training" with her siblings through South Auckland life coach Shane Wenzel. He recalls that they would often stay late on a Friday night at his offices with associates, playing Michael Jackson covers in a band. Macsyna, who has a strong voice and enjoys karaoke, would sing.
She attended to get some "normality" and direction in her life, says Wenzel. She stopped coming when problems started with the pregnancy.
In November 2006, five months after the twins' deaths, Macsyna started going out with Eru Tuari, a bouncer at Woody's, one of her local bars in Manurewa. It lasted a couple of months before Tuari called it off, via a text message, when he learned of her connection to the court case. Before long she started going out with one of his mates.
Denise and her sister Fiona confronted Macsyna and the so-called "tight 12" following the twins' deaths. They failed to make any real inroads, but passed on what they knew to police. Even in Christchurch, Denise has had to deal with the stigma of being connected to the case. A drunk bailed her up at work about being "part of that Kahui clan"; Denise told her to "step outside", and she shut up.
It's been hard to see her half-sister, whom she still views as "a lovely woman on the inside, someone who's been through a hell of a lot", make such a mess of her life. "But they're the choices she's made."
Far more troubling has been the fact that no one has been brought to justice over her nephews' deaths. Police have ruled out charging King or anyone else, saying their evidence pointed to Kahui. Long before the verdicts were returned, Denise said she did not believe he was responsible for the killings. It was a difficult thing to say, but she believed her half-sister, Macsyna, was the killer. "My puku tells me it's her."
- Sunday Star Times