Nia's nightmare

01:43, Jan 31 2009
THE ACCUSED: Michael Pearson, Oriwa Kemp, Lisa Kuka, Wiremu Curtis and Michael Curtis.

While Nia Glassie's death was tragic, there has been some consolation in the justice served at the end of her murder trial, says Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro.

The four-week trial over the violent death of Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie ended today with murder convictions for brothers Wiremu and Michael Curtis.

Wiremu Curtis, 19, and Michael Curtis, 22, were found guilty in Rotorua High Court this afternoon over what the Crown described as horrific ongoing abuse and beatings which equated to torture and eventually led to the three-year-old's death.

Nia's mother, Lisa Kuka, 35, was found guilty on two manslaughter charges relating to a lack of protection and failure to seek medical help for her critically injured daughter.

Kuka was Wiremu Curtis's partner at the time of the abuse.

Nia died of brain injuries in Auckland's Starship Hospital on August 3 last year, two weeks after suffering what the Crown said were fatal kicks to the head by the brothers.


Nia's death did not just shock New Zealand, it is also being reported widely across Australia and several major news site have featured the guilty verdicts prominently.

In the months leading up to her death the toddler had suffered horrific abuse while being brought up in an environment where she was often surrounded by several people.

Nia's cousin Michael Pearson, 20, and Michael Curtis' partner Oriwa Kemp, 18, were found not guilty of manslaughter in relation to the death.

They were, however, found guilty along with the Curtis brothers on various other charges.

The Curtis brothers and Kemp were found guilty on ill-treatment charges, specifically relating to swinging Nia on a clothesline, and also on general ill-treatment charges.

Pearson escaped a conviction on the general charge.

The brothers and Pearson were also found guilty of charges relating to putting Nia in a tumble drier.

Media reported the Curtis brothers were visibly upset when their guilty verdicts were returned and needed to be restrained by prison guards.

Dr Kiro said today that media coverage of the four-week trial made for gruelling reading and the testimony of child witnesses painted a chilling picture of what went on in Nia's home.

"Most disturbing was that they saw this abusive behaviour as normal," Dr Kiro said.

"Through the court case it became evident that a number of adults, both family members and neighbours, were aware of the neglect and abuse Nia was subject to.

"That they didn't speak out in time is something they will have to live with."

The five had been on trial for four weeks and the jury had over 20 charges to consider before returning the verdicts.

Justice Judith Trotter broke down following the verdicts.

She thanked the jury for their work.

She said the four and a half week trial had taken it toll on them and offered counselling and excused them from further jury duty.

Radio New Zealand said her voice began breaking as she spoke and she cried.

The case surrounding Nia's death caused a national outcry when information about it emerged last year, and feelings were inflamed as finer details of the abuse emerged throughout the trial.

Lawyers for Pearson and Kemp distanced their clients from the worst of the abuse, saying they were either not directly involved or not present at all when the worst of it occurred.

Kuka's lawyer described her as a hard working mother who wanted the best for her children but had made a big mistake in pairing up with a then 17-year-old Wiremu Curtis.


Abuse suffered by Rotorua three-year-old Nia Glassie during her short but tortured life included:

* Kicked in the face, causing her nose to bleed;

* Hit, slapped, punched and jumped on;

* Objects such as shoes thrown at her;

* Verbal insults, for example continually being told she was ugly;

* Forced into a television cabinet drawer;

* Dragged through the sandpit half-naked;

* Shoved into piles of rubbish;

* Made to bathe in cold water in mid-winter;

* Folded into a sofa and sat on;

* Flung against the wall;

* Held high in the air and dropped to the floor;

* Used for adult wrestling moves copied from a Playstation game;

* Whirled rapidly on a rotary clothesline until flung off;

* Put into a tumble dryer and spun on high temperature;

* Had her head and feet dangled into the fireplace when the fire was lit;

* Kicked repeatedly in the head because she was crying;

* Left lying in a coma for 36 hours without medical attention.

Nia Glassie died on August 3, 2007, from massive bleeding between her skull and brain, 12 days after being taken to hospital.