Basketballer's court reprieve

Last updated 05:00 02/08/2014

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A Southland basketballer identified as the prime offender in a violent assault at a New Plymouth pub has been given a reprieve to play professional basketball in Australia.

Leon Henry, 28, is one of three who have admitted the attack at the Crowded House bar in New Plymouth's CBD in the early hours of May 25.

It was clear from CCTV footage that it was Henry who started the brawl with a king hit on a member of the bar staff.

In June, Henry pleaded guilty to two charges, injuring with intent and assault with intent to injure.

Henry, Shea Ili, 21, and Reuben Te Rangi, 19, were all due to be sentenced yesterday but only one, Ili, ended up with a confirmed penalty. Henry was initially sentenced to four-months' home detention. However, Judge Max Courtney deferred the home detention penalty until March next year to give him a chance to take up a basketball contract with the Australian NBL Townsville Macdonald's Crocodiles.

But a few minutes later, Henry was called back into court to be reassessed. Home detention can be deferred only for two months. The judge then deferred sentencing for Henry until March 19 next year.

Henry has in the past played for the New Zealand Breakers and the Tall Blacks but was no longer wanted by those teams as a result of the offending.

Earlier, his Auckland lawyer, Ron Mansfield, told the judge that Henry's offending was a "spontaneous act of stupidity".

Henry had already paid $2500 in reparation to one victim and $1500 to the other, Mansfield said. He had no previous convictions and his career would come to an end if he did not pick up the contract for the season.

The judge noted that Henry had drunk "an astronomical amount of alcohol", the equivalent of 36 standard drinks on the night.

In June, co-offender Te Rangi admitted one count of assault with intent to injure while Ili admitted two charges - assault with intent to injure and common assault.

Their victims, mostly bar staff, said Henry's king hit and the punches and kicking from the three were the worst violence they had encountered in their jobs.

But after restorative justice process, the victims, "who called for blood", did not want the men convicted to ensure their future careers were not affected.

Both Henry and Ili agreed to carry out clinics in Taranaki to assist young basketballers to help make good the damage they caused to the community. Neither wanted a discharge without conviction.

Ili received a four-month sentence of community detention and will pay reparation of $750 to one victim and $500 to the other.

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Ili's lawyer, Susan Hughes QC, said it was her client's first offence. Ili had been leaving the bar but returned in a mistaken effort to support his team-mates.

As a result of his offending, Ili was dismissed from the Southland team and opportunities with the Tall Blacks and the New Zealand Maori men's team were no longer available to him, the judge said.

Ili was assessed as having a harmful use of alcohol.

"You have significant talents and ability you can use in the future," the judge told him.

Te Rangi will be sentenced on September 10.

- Taranaki Daily News

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