Manslaughter verdict shocks
The parents of a teenager killed in Oamaru four years ago are dumbfounded and outraged over a High Court verdict that found their son's killer guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
"It's getting harder and harder to convict someone of murder in this country," Peter Lewis said.
"If someone is stabbed three times in the back, isn't that murder?."
Peter Lewis and Jenny Brokenshire lost their 16-year-old son William, or Will as he was known, four years ago after he was stabbed in the back by Oamaru teenager Daniel Ethan Smith, then aged 16.
Smith's 2011 murder conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal last year and a retrial ordered.
Both parents say that following the retrial they have lost faith in New Zealand's justice system, and they believe the jury in the retrial got it wrong.
"We heard the same evidence [at both trials], so how can there be two different conclusions?" Lewis asked.
At the High Court retrial, which finished in Timaru last week, Smith, now 20, pleaded not guilty to murder and claimed self-defence. Crown prosecutor Andrew McRae said Smith had murderous intent when he chose to stab William Lewis in the back three times during a scuffle in Exe St at about 9.45pm on April 1, 2010.
Smith's defence counsel, Christopher Stevenson, claimed Smith had acted in self-defence and "instinctively under threat".
The court heard Lewis had tried to start a fight with Smith over a rumour involving Lewis' ex-girlfriend.
After following Smith along Exe St, Lewis started pushing him on the shoulders and tried to take off his hoodie. The court heard Smith produced a 12cm hunting knife and stabbed Lewis three times in the back, causing him to bleed to death at the scene.
Brokenshire said the verdict was "gut-wrenching".
"We feel hard done by. It's been four years and we still haven't been able to grieve."
Lewis, wife Tania and son Jacob, 13, travelled to Timaru for the trial and were among the many of Lewis' family and friends who they say were "shocked" and "dumbfounded" by the outcome.
"We felt the jury saw murder and self-defence and couldn't make a decision so they went in the middle with manslaughter - they got it wrong," he said.
Having sat in court "more times than I can recall", Lewis said the latest decision made a "mockery of the system".
"We thought the guilty verdict was it. It still won't bring Will back, but to us it meant something. Justice in this country is stacked for the criminal, not for the victim."
A few weeks before his death Will, who had lived in Timaru growing up, had started a job as an apprentice mechanic in Kurow.
Brokenshire said her son was excited about his future. She said he was a loveable "rat bag" but was good-natured and loved his family - especially his younger siblings.
Brokenshire, who lives in Timaru and works night shift, recalled the night she heard her son had been stabbed. "I took off to Oamaru Hospital where mum and dad were waiting outside. Dad came up to me and said ‘we've lost him'. I just fell on the ground."
She said it was hard not being able to see her son immediately after he died as the area where he was stabbed was cordoned off.
"He lay on the ground for 19 hours. I wasn't even able to go to see him, pick him up or hold him."
The family said they can now only hope the judge makes an example out of Smith at sentencing on August 29.
The Timaru Herald