Prison worried over inmate's letter threat

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:20 02/02/2012

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Crime

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Highbury's self-described "worst criminal" threatened a young girl who witnessed him commit a sexual act while on a Palmerston North bus.

He tried to silence the girl and also made threats against her parents.

On a charge of perverting the course of justice, for writing the threatening letter from prison, Steven Karu, 42, was sentenced to one year in prison - on top of the time he is serving for the indecent act.

On July 4 last year, Karu was riding a bus when he performed an indecent act, the Palmerston North District Court heard yesterday.

A 13-year-old girl on the bus saw what was happening and texted her parents, asking what to do. They told her to take a picture to show to the police and to get off at the next stop. She did. Trouble was, Karu got off too.

Judge Gerard Lynch told the court that might have been when Karu discovered the girl's address.

On October 13 last year, Karu was jailed for one year on an indecency charge but while in Manawatu Prison awaiting sentence, he sent the girl a threatening letter dated August 22.

The girl's mother received it six days later.

Defence lawyer Jock Turnbull, who described Karu as "confused", handed to the court a picture of the envelope. When Judge Lynch saw it, he wondered how it got out of prison and asked Crown prosecutor Matthew Davie to investigate.

"When the bottom of the envelope says 'Highbury style for life', it begs to be opened doesn't it?" the judge asked.

"And on the back 'original hoodlum pay back'." There was also a picture of a gang gesture and the phrase "Highbury gonna get you". The letter to the girl contained threats against her and her family.

In it, Karu described himself as "Highbury's worst criminal".

He also commented that he was due to be released when the girl would be aged 16, the legal age of consent for sexual intercourse.

Judge Lynch noted Karu's long history of offending, dating back to 1989, which included more than 180 convictions.

One of his most public displays was on November 11, 2010, when he was busted peering through a Broadway bakery window at female workers, while performing an indecent act.

Manawatu Prison Manager Peter Howe said he was very concerned about the incident.

"The Department's chief priority is protecting the safety of the community and we work hard to ensure that prisoners cannot contact members of the public who do not wish to be contacted," he said in an emailed statement.

"A prisoner may send and receive as much mail as the prisoner wishes. The prison must pay the postage of up to three standard letters per week sent by each prisoner within New Zealand, and a further three standard letters to an Inspector of Corrections or an Ombudsman.

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"Given the volume of prisoner mail it is not possible to read every item of correspondence. This makes absolute prevention of unwanted mail difficult."

Mr Howe said the incident would be reviewed.

WARNING TO WITNESS

What Steven Karu's letter to the girl said: "I'm sorry for what I did gee. I didn't do it in front of you and I didn't force you to watch. "Delete the photo or else. "I don't want you, me, and your mum and dad to have a problem. "I didn't mean for this to happen, I'm sorry. "If my mum dies when I'm in here, so does yours and your dad."

- Manawatu Standard

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