Moko's death sparks Government inquiry into laws around murder and manslaughter

Jacinda Ardern says the plea bargain in the case was unfathomable.
DEREK FLYNN / FAIRFAX NZ

Jacinda Ardern says the plea bargain in the case was unfathomable.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has ordered a report into whether law changes are needed, after the killers of Moko Rangitoheriri had their murder charges downgraded to manslaughter. 

But a review of sentencing in child abuse cases is not needed, Prime Minister John Key says, despite outcry over a manslaughter charge in the horrific death of Moko Rangitoheriri.

The Taupo boy was meant to be in the care of David Haerewa and Tania Shailer, but the pair violently abused the three-year-old for weeks, kicking, slapping, stomping on him and rubbing faeces in his face before his death on August 10, 2015.

Moko Rangitoheriri was a "cheeky" boy who loved Bob the Builder.
SUPPLIED

Moko Rangitoheriri was a "cheeky" boy who loved Bob the Builder.

The Crown Prosecution Service's decision to lay manslaughter instead of murder charges has drawn ire, with Labour MP Jacinda Ardern calling it "unfathomable".

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The pair are yet to be sentenced, and Adams would not be drawn on Moko's case. 

Nicola Dally-Paki told Story how her daughter pleaded with their caregivers to take Moko Rangitoheriri to see a doctor ...

Nicola Dally-Paki told Story how her daughter pleaded with their caregivers to take Moko Rangitoheriri to see a doctor after he had been abused.

"I acknowledge the outrage New Zealanders are feeling as details of Moko's mistreatment surface. It's a truly horrific and heart-breaking case. It's fair to say that communities across the country need to do more to stand up against family violence.

"Decisions around whether to prosecute and what charges are made independently of Ministers. I can't be drawn on specific cases as both crown prosecutions and judicial decisions are quite rightly kept absolutely separate from executive function," she said. 

But she confirmed she had asked for a report from officials on whether Moko's case highlighted any systemic issues with the law around murder and manslaughter. 

Tania Shailer, 26 and David William Haerewa, 43, were due to stand trial for the murder of Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri, ...
MATT SHAND / FAIRFAX NZ

Tania Shailer, 26 and David William Haerewa, 43, were due to stand trial for the murder of Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri, 3, but instead they lodged pleas to the lesser charges in the Rotorua High Court.

Initial advice is that officials won't be in a position to give reliable advice until the sentencing hearing is complete and it's clear what they are being sentenced on and what factors influenced Crown Law's decision.

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"While the matter awaits sentencing, I can't comment further."

Pushed on the question of a review of sentencing this morning, Key said he didn't think one was needed.

Asked whether the case set a dangerous precedent for other child abusers, Key refused to comment.

"Individual cases have to be handled by the courts and not politicians," he said.

"I will say that when a charging decision is made, these matters are independently considered by the Crown Prosecutor. They are the best people to ultimately judge what the right charge should be."

Moko's mother, Nicola Dally-Paki, speaking about the case publicly for the first time on Monday, said she missed warning signs.

Ardern, the party's children's spokeswoman, said the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to lay manslaughter charges was justifiably the source of outrage.

Family members have previously said they were told murder charges were not laid because the toddler did not die at the scene.

Moko died in Taupo Hospital after five weeks of beatings and abuse from Shailer and Haerewa. They have pleaded to manslaughter and will be sentenced in Rotorua.

Plea bargaining, in New Zealand, was historically an option used by the defence but, in recent years, prosecutors have also used bargaining to expedite court proceedings.

Funding arrangements for lawyers and murder trials, which can take weeks, have changed.

Ardern said Moko's death was horrific and it was hard to see how the case was interpreted as anything other than murder.

"This should never have been a case where a plea deal was done.

"I have looked over 40 cases of child abuse and, while manslaughter is a charge that features, it's unfathomable that the Crown prosecutors used it in this case.

"Shailer and Haerewa were originally charged with murder in October last year, only to have that downgraded to manslaughter, a charge they then pled guilty to in May," Ardern said.

The list MP said the law was not the problem in the case.

The problem was the plea deal, she said.

The coroner appointed to the case, Wallace Bain, has drawn parallels with the case of toddler Nia Glassie, who died in 2007 aged three after systematic abuse.

Ardern said the summary of facts told of Moko being bitten, dropped face first on the floor, stomped on and kicked. Injuries were extensive and when he was admitted to hospital his face was swollen, his abdomen was distended and he was covered in bruises and bites.

"With so many injuries the post-mortem wasn't even able to pinpoint one cause of death. A haemorrhage deep in Moko's abdomen, a bowel rupture and swelling to the brain were all contenders.

"Justice would have been better served by allowing this case to go to trial, and allowing a jury to decide," says Ardern.

The Ministry of Social Development, in a lengthy statement, said the department sympathised with the family and her mother's loss in terrible circumstances.

Dally-Paki is currently fighting a Child, Youth and Family decision to remove her other children from her custody while they deal with the loss of Moko.

"CYF do not believe that it is in the best interests of her other children to be living with Nicola at this time.

"It is important to note that Child, Youth and Family became involved days before Moko was killed because Tania Shailer, who has been convicted for her part in his death, had reported she was concerned that Moko and his siblings would not be safe with their mother, who was planning to collect them from Tania's care.

"It is easy to make judgements in hindsight.

"Two people have still to be sentenced for killing Moko, the Family Court has still to hear the custody case, and the Coroner has still to investigate the events leading up to Moko's death," the statement said.

Moko's family have previously told of their shock at the criminal justice system.

The Crown prosecutor did not push for murder charges to be laid against Moko's killers because it was his own body that killed him, Moko's family have said.

An exact cause of death could not be established but a ruptured bowel, caused by stomping, and severe head trauma, were put forward as reasons.

Family members were told murder charges would no longer be pursued.

"When I first heard about their charge I thought what?," a family member said previously.

"Then she explained because he wasn't killed on the spot, but because his ruptured bowel was killing him, it wasn't murder.

"I just think if you take a life it should be murder not manslaughter."

Specific charges also exist for failing to provide care for a child, but these were also dropped.

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