Mother not guilty of children's manslaughter

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 16:44 15/03/2013

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The mother of two teens killed in a Christmas Day crash has been found not guilty of being a party to her daughters' deaths.

A jury in the High Court in Hamilton this afternoon found Phillippa Vanessa Morehu, 37, not guilty on two charges of manslaughter.

Her nephew, Haki Tepuere Davey, 18, was also found not guilty of two charges of manslaughter.

The verdicts came after a two week trial in which the jury of two men and 10 women heard how the pair were allegedly involved in a "reckless" road race that ended in the lives of Morehu's daughters Merepeka Morehu-Clark, 14, and her sister Brooklyn, 13.

The sisters were killed in Tauranga on Christmas Day 2011 after the car they were back seat passengers in collided with a ute on Welcome Bay Rd.

The driver of the car, Hetaraka Hikurangi Reihana, 21, pleaded guilty to two charges of manslaughter yesterday.

Crown prosecutor Greg Hollister-Jones said while Reihana was the one driving the car that crashed, all three were to blame because they were racing - at speeds of up to 140 kph - before the crash happened.

But the jury disagreed with that, finding both not guilty after a day of deliberations.

Over the two weeks they had heard that all  three had been drinking heavily before they got in the cars and headed to a nearby family burial ground.

But this morning Judge Murray Gilbert urged jurors to put any personal feelings or judgments they had about the accused  aside when determining their guilt or innocence.

"You may  disapprove of how Morehu cared for her children...but you must not allow any feelings of prejudice against the accused influence your deliberations," he said.

Reihana will be sentenced for his part in May.

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