Two bashing accused on bail for murders

BY MARTY SHARPE AND EMILY WATT
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2010
Jason Lawrence
EVA BRADLEY/The Dominion Post
JASON LAWRENCE: Attacked and robbed.

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Two men on bail for separate murders have been charged with beating a man so badly that he had to be put into an induced coma.

The mother of 22-year-old Jason Lawrence, who was assaulted while job hunting in Napier, said bail should "absolutely not" be granted to people accused of murder.

"Judges have got to consider the safety of other members of the community," Katie Pleasants said.

"Jason was an innocent citizen walking home in broad daylight. If these men had not been on bail, this would not have happened."

A relative of one of the murder victims was appalled that the man accused of murdering his family member was accused of reoffending while on bail.

But lawyers say judges who grant bail are doing the best they can since no-one can predict the future.

Latest available figures show that about 30 per cent of people accused of murder are granted bail. In 2007, 22 people accused of murder were freed on bail.

The men, who were granted name suppression in Napier District Court yesterday, were part of a group of four charged with attacking Mr Lawrence last Friday.

Mr Lawrence, a cook, was walking in an alleyway near Kennedy Park, Napier, when he was attacked and robbed about 4pm. He suffered injuries to his head, face and liver and was taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital, where he was put into an induced coma.

He regained consciousness on Saturday and returned home on Monday. Four men have been charged with aggravated robbery and been remanded in custody to appear in court again on February 25.

Shannon Hazel, 19, is the only man who can be named. Two others have name suppression and a fourth cannot be named because of his age and will next appear in the Youth Court.

Two of the men are facing charges of separate murders.

A relative of one of the murder victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said he was horrified to hear one of the men accused of killing his family member had allegedly reoffended.

"Someone's obviously made an error of judgment ... It's a very bad error of judgment. I just don't know what to say."

He thought judges were "a little bit removed from the real world and what really goes down in some communities" when they made such decisions.

The National Government tightened the bail laws shortly after it came to power as part of its election promise.

Justice Minister Simon Power promised that the law change would make it more difficult to get bail.

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When asked yesterday whether the tightened bail laws had gone far enough, his spokeswoman said Mr Power could not comment on individual cases and bail was "a matter for judges to decide".

Graeme Newell, of the Criminal Bar Association, said there was a presumption in favour of bail unless the court believed there was a risk the person would reoffend, run away, or interfere with witnesses.

"No-one can predict the future and people on murder charges get bail," he said. "People think it's unheard of, but it's not."

Defence lawyer Greg King said bail should be decided on a case-by-case basis, with judges assessing the risk and liberty of each citizen.

"Because we don't have a crystal ball and we can't predict future outcomes, the best thing we can do is leave it up to conscientious, intelligent judges."

- The Dominion Post

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