Jurors in the Nia Glassie murder trial at the High Court at Rotorua were urged today to give the three-year-old's mother "a fair go."
Panama Le'au'anae, who is defence counsel for 35-year-old Lisa Kuka, said: "That is all I ask of you."
In a brief opening address on the second day of the month-long trial, at which Kuka faces two manslaughter charges, Mr Le'au'anae said his client did not know what was going on in her home.
It was accepted that she was a hard worker who left early in the morning and often got home when the children were in bed.
"You may have to consider what did Lisa Kuku know and when did she find out," he told the jury.
Only one other defence lawyer took the opportunity to briefly address jurors. Craig Horsley, acting for Wiremu Curtis on nine counts including murder, wilfully ill-treating Nia, and various assaults, said among the key issues to consider were:
* Did these things occur?
* If they did, what was Wiremu Curtis's involvement – "was he a participant or was he merely present?"
* Were the alleged assaults part of exuberant game play or something more sinister with criminal intent?
When the first witnesses in the case were called to give evidence this afternoon, the court was told police visited the Curtis home late on the morning of July 20 on an unrelated matter.
The Crown has contended it was that evening that Nia suffered a fatal kick to the head by either Wiremu or his older brother Michael Curtis.
Wiremu Curtis and Nia Glassie were the only ones home when Constable Paula Wiperi questioned Curtis in the lounge. He told her Nia was his step-daughter.
The toddler was standing at the ranch-slider when the officers arrived. Curtis picked her up and sat her on his knee.
All three police witnesses said the child was quiet throughout their dealings with Wiremu Curtis and spent most of the time asleep.
Under cross-examination, Sergeant Paul Kirkby said she appeared to be quite lethargic and limp.
The five accused face multiple charges to which they have pleaded not guilty:
* Wiremu Curtis: Murder, three counts of wilful ill-treatment likely to have caused unnecessary suffering, five assaults (three against Nia, one each against two older girls).
* Michael William Curtis: Murder, three charges of wilful ill-treatment and four of assaulting Nia, two counts each of assaulting two other children.
* Lisa Michelle Kuka: Manslaughter (by failing to provide medical treatment and failing to protect her daughter from violence).
* Michael Paul Pearson: Manslaughter (being a party to the unlawful acts of Wiremu and Michael Curtis which caused the death of Nia Glassie), two counts of wilful ill-treatment, four assaults (two on Nia, one each on two other girls).
* Oriwa Terrina Kemp: Manslaughter (being a party to unlawful acts), two charges of wilful ill-treatment, two of assaulting Nia.
The Crown intends to call 56 witnesses during the four week trial.
- with NZPA