Murder accused: I'm no 'monster'

Last updated 17:01 20/06/2014
wright standard

HOMICIDE VICTIM: Johnny Wright.

Steven Rakuraku
JOHN COWPLAND/Fairfax NZ
OWN DEFENCE: Prosecutors allege Steven Rakuraku took control of Johnny Wright's life, beat him regularly and would not let him out of his house. They say the beatings ended with Wright's murder.

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Steven Rakuraku bullied and beat a vulnerable man until he was too scared to leave his own home, a court has heard. 

But the murder accused said Johnny Wright was not locked up and could leave any time, Rakuraku said. 

Police found Wright's body in August 2011 after a tip-off led to a search of a rural Napier area. 

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

Rakuraku, 39, has been defending himself during the three-week High Court trial in Napier. He faces 12 charges relating to four victims between 2010 and 2011.

Rakuraku admits burying Wright but denies having anything to do with his death. 

Crown Prosecutor Steve Manning said Rakuraku detained Wright and "literally beat him to death" in the last 10 days of his life. 

Wright was so badly injured that he began wetting himself and he could not stand unassisted, the court heard.

The crown alleges Rakuraku used a taiaha, a traditional Maori weapon, to inflict some of the 36 rib fractures Wright suffered.  Wright died on June 23 2011, because he could not breath, the court heard. 

Rakuraku and his girlfriend found Wright slumped on the couch, dead, when they returned from the library. 

Rakuraku wrapped the body, borrowed a vehicle then drove to Waipunga Rd and buried his body in a shallow grave. 

Manning said Rukuraku "rushed around" disposing of the body because he had something to hide.

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

Manning said Rakuraku dominated and manipulated vulnerable people so he could hide from the police who had a warrant out for his arrest.  He ruled Wright's life with fear, taking control of his phone and finances. Manning described Wright as a "gentle soul".

"He was the perfect candidate to be targeted by Rakuraku," Manning said. "He wouldn't fight back, he wouldn't resist, he wouldn't go to the police ."

He didn't need to lock the door because Wright was too scared to leave, Manning said. 

Rakuraku opened his closing address today with a prayer. He said he was not the "monster" the crown painted him out to be. "Does a monster or cold blooded murderer say a prayer?" 

Rakuraku said he was brought up to care for friends and family. He and Wright were good friends who reminisced about growing up in Napier and talked about how their fathers worked on the railway, he told the jury. 

Rakuraku rubbished the Crown's claims that he took Wright's money and was paranoid about being found by police.

Rakuraku, his girlfriend and Wright, lived a "normal" life, watching sky and DVDs together, he said. 
During the trial Rakuraku said Wright could have been injured when he was teaching him martial arts. He insisted he never detained Wright.

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"John could have walked. He was not locked in." 

A neighbour saw Wright riding his bike, during the time the crown said he was being detained, said Russell Fairbrother, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae.

He watched Wright playing with a dog and waving to others in the neighbourhood. He did not notice anything amiss. 

Fairbrother told the jury they could not rule out someone coming in and attacking Wright while Rakuraku and his girlfriend were out. He said it was "big leap of faith" that a beating two days earlier caused his death on the couch. 

Justice Joe Williams will sum up the case on Monday, three years to the day that Wright died. 

- The Dominion Post

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