Martin not guilty of stepdaughter's murder

'LITTLE ANGEL': Leilani Lotonu'u-Lorigan.
'LITTLE ANGEL': Leilani Lotonu'u-Lorigan.

An Auckland man has been found not guilty of murdering his 2-year-old stepdaughter.

Michael Martin, 25, was on trial in the High Court in Auckland charged with the murder of Leilani Mary Jane Lotonu'u-Lorigan.

The jury returned a majority 11-to-one verdict this afternoon and found Martin not guilty of murder or manslaughter and not guilty of ill-treatment of a child.

The court heard Leilani died of an infection after her duodenum - an organ in her abdomen - was split in two places.

A pathologist said it was an injury inflicted with "a substantial amount of force" as would be seen when someone was kicked by a horse or if they fell from a height onto a fence post.

The toddler died in her Manurewa home on June 10, 2012, after her mother, Amy Lorigan, then 19, found her with her eyes flickering and not closing in her sleep.

Police launched a murder investigation after an autopsy discovered the internal injuries, which were thought to have occurred in the 24 hours before Leilani's death.

Lorigan and Martin looked after the girl together the day before her death, but Lorigan left the house for an hour to do some shopping, after which Leilani exhibited signs of being unwell.

The toddler vomited and had a temperature but her mother had assumed it was a stomach bug.

Early the next morning Lorigan found Leilani partially on the mattress next to her.

Prosecutor Christine Gordon, QC, said the girl's eyes were "flicking back in her head and her eyes wouldn't close".

Lorigan rang an ambulance and fetched a neighbour who performed CPR, but the child was pronounced dead by paramedics about 5.45am.

Martin's defence argued someone else, possibly Lorigan, was responsible for the death and the court heard the mother had physically disciplined the girl in the past.

Martin was discharged and left the courtroom with family.