Eight years for murder 'brave and right'

HISTORY OF VICTIMHOOD: Jacqueline Wihongi is sentenced for murder in the Napier High Court.
EVA BRADLEY/The Dominion Post
HISTORY OF VICTIMHOOD: Jacqueline Wihongi is sentenced for murder in the Napier High Court.

A woman who fatally stabbed her partner in the chest with a kitchen knife has been sentenced to just eight years in jail.

Jacqueline Elaine Wihongi, 33, "self-medicated" with alcohol after a tragic "history of victimhood", a court was told yesterday. She is believed to be just the second person to receive less than a life sentence for murder.

Wihongi was found guilty in June of murdering her partner of 17 years, Vivian Hirini. But in the High Court at Napier yesterday, Justice John Wild said it would be manifestly unjust to sentence the mother-of-six to life imprisonment.

Women's Refuge has hailed the decision as "brave and right", and the justice minister says there are no plans to review the law that allowed the sentence.

Under the Sentencing Act 2002, finite penalties were made available for murder if a life sentence would be "manifestly unjust".

Wihongi's sentence was only the second of less than life for murder since the act came into force, said her lawyer, Russell Fairbrother. The other was 77-year-old Thames man Rex Law, who was sentenced to 18 months' jail in August 2002 for the mercy killing of his wife, Olga, 74, who had Alzheimer's disease.

Wihongi stabbed Mr Hirini in the chest after an argument on June 5 last year. Mr Hirini drove away but collapsed over the steering wheel and bled to death.

Mr Fairbrother said his client posed no threat to society and the murder was the result of the violent relationship she had with Mr Hirini, the father of five of her children.

Police were often called to attend to their altercations, which were often physical. Mr Hirini had been stabbed by her previously and had lost an eye when she hit him with a bottle.

Mr Fairbrother held up a thick ringbinder containing more than 500 pages of police reports on domestic incidents between the couple.

He provided the judge with three psychiatric reports and a psychologist's report, and said alcohol was a way of self-medicating to overcome recurring thoughts about her tragic past.

Crown lawyer Steve Manning said this was not a case of "battered woman syndrome" and Wihongi had directed significant violence toward Mr Hirini in the years leading up to the murder.

Wihongi knew she got violent when she drank, he said, and her alcohol consumption should not be taken into account as to do so would "open the door" for the same argument to be made by others who murdered while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Justice Wild acknowledged he could not consider Wihongi's alcohol consumption on the night as a mitigating factor, but said she had an "alcohol abuse disorder" and had been a heavy drinker since she was 13.

She was socially inept unless drunk and could not have sex without alcohol, he said.

She had significant impairment from a drug overdose when she was 13, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression because of several rapes and a home invasion.

The judge said Wihongi regretted killing Mr Hirini. The reports made it clear her condition was treatable. "I consider you as a person both deserving of help and who can be helped."

She had been a good mother and there was "a real prospect that you can be restored as a worthwhile member of society".

He sentenced her to eight years' jail with no minimum period of imprisonment, meaning she could apply for parole after one-third of the term.

Mr Hirini's sister, Millie Hirini, said the sentence should have been more severe.

Outside court, Mr Fairbrother said the recent removal of provocation as a defence was likely to lead to similar arguments in future sentencings.

Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin praised the judge for considering the "appalling violence" Wihongi had suffered.

"Given the horrendous life she has led, we believe that it was valid to weigh up whether it would be manifestly unjust to impose the presumption of life and come to the conclusion it was not.

"It was brave and right to impose a finite sentence."

Justice Minister Simon Power would not comment on the case other than to say there were no plans to review the act.


Before handing down his sentence, Justice John Wild outlined Jacqueline Wihongi's past.

She was brought up in a big Gisborne family and had a largely happy early childhood.

But at 13 she overdosed on painkillers after an argument with her mother and spent weeks in hospital in a coma. She left school and began abusing alcohol.

At 14, she was sexually abused by her drug and alcohol counsellor.

At 15, she started a relationship with Vivian Hirini's older brother, who prostituted her for money and drugs.

At 16, she started a "tempestuous and chaotic relationship" with Hirini, who was a Black Power associate.

At 18, she was gang raped by Black Power gang members.

A year later she was raped by one of Hirini's gang friends, who threatened to hurt her baby daughter unless she complied.

At 26, she was the victim of a home invasion and was knocked unconscious by a bottle smashed over her head.

The Dominion Post