Victim 'slowly beaten to death'

05:49, Jun 04 2014
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Murder accused Steven Rakuraku detained his victim and slowly beat him to death over ten days, a court has heard.

Steven Rakuraku, 39, is on trial in the High Court in Napier for murder of Johnny Wright, who went missing in June 2011.

Police found Wright's body following a search in August 2011 of a rural site near Napier, after receiving a tip-off.

The 50-year-old sickness beneficiary had not been seen since early June that year.

The trial, before Justice Joe Williams, began this morning and is expected to last up to four weeks.

Rakuraku faces 12 charges related to four victims in 2010 and 2011. 


In his opening address this morning Crown lawyer Steve Manning said none of the victims knew each other, or Rakuraku, before the events occurred, but all had in common ''the manner in which they were treated by Mr Rakuraku''.

He said Rakuraku ''dominated, manipulated, controlled, intimidated and beat all four of them, one of them to the point that he died''.

Two of the victims would give evidence of witnessing Wright being beaten by Rakuraku in the months before his death.

Manning said the case was about the vulnerability of the victims, but also ''an element of paranoia on the part of Mr Rakuraku'' who was wanted by police at the time of the alleged offending.

The quiet and shy Wright was a much loved son, uncle and brother. He suffered mental health issues but lived independently and had good support. He was ''particularly vulnerable,'' Manning said.

The Crown alleges that Rakuraku ''took over'' Wright's life in the last weeks of his life. Every aspect of Wright's life was controlled by Rakuraku, who controlled his phone, finances and appointments.

He forced Wright to make phone calls because he could not leave the house as it was so obvious he had been badly beaten.

''Johnny Wright had had his life taken over by Steven Rakuraku, and was regularly being beaten by Steven Rakuraku,'' Manning said.

The beatings got worse in the last ten days of Wright's life and ended with his murder. His last days were witnessed by Rakuraku's girlfriend, who would be giving evidence.

Manning said a pathologist would tell the court that Wright's 24 ribs were fractured in 36 places and he died because he was physically unable to breath.

He said a forensic scientist had identified blood in the flat, despite ''a determined effort by Mr Rakuraku after Johnny had died to paint the flat and to wipe it down with bleach to get rid of traces of blood''.

Wright was so badly injured that he began wetting himself, he could not stand unassisted and his ability to talk was diminished.

Rakuraku's girlfriend would on occasion stitch up his ears with a needle and thread after they had been split from the beatings. 

''He'd get beaten again and the ears would be re-split,'' Manning said.

Wright was unable to leave the house and suffered numerous beatings, including one involving a taiaha, the traditional Maori weapon.

On the day Wright died, June 23, 2011, Rakuraku's girlfriend said she heard Rakuraku go into Wright's room. She heard ''a loud thud'' and heard Rakuraku saying ''get up''.

She and Rakuraku went into town and returned later in the day, when Wright was found dead on a couch.

Rakuraku wrapped Wright's body up, put it in a borrowed vehicle then drove to Waipunga Road, in a rural area near Napier, and buried his body in a shallow grave.

Wright's body was found two months later when the girlfriend ''came clean'' and took police to the grave.

The other charges related to a man Rakuraku befriended in Rotorua and forced him to drive Rakuraku to Hawke's Bay, another man he forced to give him money and his own girlfriend.

All were allegedly beaten by Rakuraku.

Rakuraku has chosen to defend himself with the help of amicus curiae, Russell Fairbrother QC.

An amicus curiae, or a "friend of the Court" does not appear on behalf of a party to a proceeding, but assists the Court by pointing out matters of law or fact that have been overlooked, or presents opposing arguments so that both sides of a case can be heard.