The man convicted of causing a crash that killed three young people in North Canterbury was lucky he was not charged with murder, a Court of Appeal judge says.
Worthy Redeemed, 40, was found guilty instead of the three manslaughter charges that he faced at a trial in the High Court at Wellington last year.
In the Court of Appeal today he appealed against his convictions and the 14-year jail term he received.
His lawyer, Lee Lee Heah said Redeemed's sentence was the highest yet imposed for a vehicle manslaughter case in this country.
But Justice Terence Arnold said Redeemed was lucky he was not charged with murder since he was found to have deliberately grabbed the steering wheel from his front passenger's position and aimed the car at a bus.
That set the case apart from other vehicle manslaughter cases, the judge said.
Crown lawyer Madeleine Laracy said that the Crown had asked at the sentencing hearing for Redeemed to receive life imprisonment, the usual sentence for murder and also available for the most serious cases of manslaughter.
The sentencing judge, Justice Christian Whata, decided that Redeemed should have to serve at least half of the 14-year sentence before he could be considered for parole.
The three Court of Appeal judges reserved their decision.
Heah told the judges that new evidence from vehicle crash analyst Professor John Raine supported the view that the crash could have been the result of an inadvertent action.
The jury had found a deliberate act by Redeemed caused the crash in May, 2010, at Woodend, North Canterbury.
The driver of the Mitsubishi Mirage car, Dean McArtney, 21, and passengers Jethro Cooper, 16, and Kodee Rapana, 15, all died.
Redeemed and another passenger Reece Dick, then 17, were seriously injured. Redeemed claimed to remember nothing of the crash. He had been a work skills supervisor on a course that Dick and McArtney had attended.
As well as being found guilty of three charges of manslaughter he was also found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to Dick with reckless disregard for his safety, and injuring two of the bus passengers with reckless disregard.
Heah said today that Raine's evidence showed that the angle of the car's deviation causing it to cross the centre line, was 5-10 degrees, not the 30 degrees that the jury had been told.
Heah said the smaller change to the direction of travel was consistent with the accident being the result of an inadvertent action because of fooling around, skylarking, or the driver being bumped.
Against that the Crown points to the evidence of a witness who said he saw Redeemed look at the bus, grab the wheel and steer the car into the path of the bus.
But Heah said if the new evidence had been before the jury it would have been a credible alternative explanation for the cause of the crash.
Laracy said Raine's evidence did not add anything to the case. Expert evidence was not needed to support the defence theory of an inadvertent act causing the crash. The witness who said he saw Redeemed grab the wheel was challenged on what he saw and was adamant.
- © Fairfax NZ News