Steven Rakuraku found guilty of murder

Last updated 13:25 25/06/2014
Steven Rakuraku
JOHN COWPLAND/Fairfax NZ
GUILTY: Steven Rakuraku has been found guilty of kidnapping and murder.

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Steven Rakuraku has been found guilty of beating a vulnerable sickness beneficiary to death.

Hastings man Johnny Wright, 50, died on June 23, 2011, when 36 fractures to his ribs stopped him breathing.

Rakuraku and his girlfriend found Wright slumped on the couch, dead, when they returned from the library, the High Court at Napier was told.

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

Police found the body two months later, after a tipoff led to a search of a rural Napier area.

The crown alleged Rakuraku, 39, detained Wright and beat him so badly that he began wetting himself and could not stand unassisted.

Rakuraku admitted burying Wright, out of "panic", but denied having anything to do with his death.

The jury disagreed with him, finding him guilty of murdering and kidnapping Wright. 

Justice Williams ordered a full pre-sentence report as well as a cultural background report. 

Rakuraku was issued a first strike warning under the "three strikes" legislation. He was remanded in custody, with a sentencing date yet to be confirmed.

Rakuraku defended himself during the three-week trial. He faced 11 charges relating to four alleged victims between 2010 and 2011.

The other charges, including assault, threatening to kill, kidnapping and perverting the course of justice 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.

Rakuraku was found guilty on all assault and kidnapping charges. He was found not guilty of threatening to kill one victim only. 

None of the victims knew each other, or Rakuraku until the events occurred.

During the trial, crown prosecutor Steve Manning told the court all were dominated, manipulated and controlled by Rakuraku. He beat all four of them but went too far with Wright, beating him until he died.

Wright was particularly vulnerable as he suffered mental health issues, the court heard.

Rakuraku took over Wright's life, controlling his phone, finances and appointments. Wright could not leave the house because he was so badly beaten, the crown said. 

Rakuraku used a taiaha, a traditional Maori weapon to beat Wright two days before he died.

Manning said Rakuraku must have known death was likely because of Wright's already injured state.

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Rakuraku suggested Wright could have been injured during their boxing training, but it was never intentional and at the most it was just a bleeding nose.

Justice Joe Williams thanked the jury. 

- The Dominion Post

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