Chance encounter leads to robbery and beating of Tokoroa store worker

Arjay Paraku-Harris was sentenced to 11 months of home detention for his part in a vicious superette robbery when he ...

Arjay Paraku-Harris was sentenced to 11 months of home detention for his part in a vicious superette robbery when he appeared in the Hamilton District Court on Tuesday.

Arjay Paraku-Harris had been hitchhiking home when, by chance, he was picked up by two friends who just happened to be making plans to rob a grocery store.

It was a dark twist of fate on Friday, May 13 that culminated with the 17-year-old becoming a willing accomplice in what became a vicious robbery that left a 52-year-old store worker bloodied and beaten on the floor of the Pohutukawa Superette in Kauri St, Tokoroa.

Although Paraku-Harris had fallen in with the wrong crowd on that day, his luck took a better turn in the Hamilton District Court on Tuesday when he managed to avoid spending time with an even worse crowd - in prison.

He was sentenced to 11 months of home detention by Judge Robert Spear, thanks in part to the large contingent of family members who went to court to support him, as well as pleas for leniency by his counsel Roger Laybourn.

The circumstances that led to his involvement with the three other robbers were revealed during sentencing.

Paraku-Harris had been drinking with others earlier in the day when he found himself stranded and without a vehicle to get himself home.

He decided to hitch.

He was spotted by two other friends who picked him up. However his would-be rescuers had been plotting the robbery of the superette, and with Paraku-Harris readily offering his assistance they had the numbers to accomplish the deed.

About 4.50pm he and two of his co-offenders entered the store, while a third waited outside in a car, preparing for a quick escape.

Before entering, the four offenders had pulled hoods over their faces to disguise themselves. They had also discussed and agreed upon using violence as a means to subdue whoever was behind the front counter.

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The person behind the counter was a 52-year-old woman, who worked part-time at the superette. One of Paraku-Harris' co-offenders walked up to her and, before she had time to react, punched her square in the face, breaking her nose.

Another co-offender then stepped behind the counter and, as the woman was cowering on the ground, delivered some kicks to her head.

The robbers then took cigarettes and tobacco from a cabinet behind the counter and fled, as their victim made her own escape through a rear exit.

Some time later Paraku-Harris was caught by the police. He immediately admitted his part in the robbery and was fully co-operative, even assisting the police by naming one of his accomplices.

He told the police his actions were "dumb and stupid" and he was ashamed of his part in the robbery.

It was, Laybourn said, completely out of character for him.

"The moment he was apprehended he realised the enormity and the stupidity of his actions."

Paraku-Harris was generally mild-mannered, very impressionable, and "did not even have the street cunning to protest that there would be violence dished out by the others," he said.

However while the defendant did not take part in the beating, Judge Spear gave much consideration to the ongoing plight of the group's victim.

The assault had a profound effect on her. As well as the physical injuries - the broken nose, a swollen eye and cuts to her head - were psychological injuries. She was now too fearful to leave her own home without the company of her husband, and even the task of bringing in the washing from the line in semi-darkness was now too much for her.

"She would have been no match for any of you. It begs the question of why it was necessary to use violence to subdue her."

Judge Spear said he was continuously bewildered by the way young men and women frequently risked jeopardising their entire lives for the sake of a few handfuls of cigarettes and alcohol, and this was a good example of that phenomenon.

From a starting point of four years and six months in jail, Spear made deductions for Paraku-Harris' youth, his assistance to the police, the fact he was not initially part of the group of conspirators, and his early guilty plea, he ended with 21 months in prison - which was converted to 11 months of home detention.

"I'm taking a chance with you today," he told the teenager, warning he would be keeping tabs on whether he was complying with the terms of his sentence - and jail was yet possible.

"If I don't like what I read, if I don't think your attitude is right, I will arrange to have you brought back before me.

"There is no second chance ... Do not waste this opportunity."

 - Stuff

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