A Nelson man who lost a leg when he was pinned between a pole and a car driven by his niece says forgiving her has allowed him to heal.
Cassandra Renia Tewhei Albert, 26, of Nelson, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in the Nelson District Court yesterday.
In August last year a jury found Albert guilty on a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard. She was acquitted on a more serious charge, that she deliberately caused grievous bodily harm.
The charges followed a dramatic incident on August 15, 2012, when Albert drove her car into her uncle on Wakefield Quay, crushing him against a pole and severing his right leg.
The court heard that she had been angry at Mr Albert over a disputed rent payment, and made a "spur of the moment decision" to drive at him as he walked along a footpath.
While the jury was not sure that Albert meant to cause harm, they found that she recklessly disregarded her uncle's safety by deliberately driving towards him. There was an inherent risk that he might be injured, which Albert should have appreciated, Judge Denys Barry said when sentencing her yesterday.
It was revealed after the trial that Albert was on parole at the time of the offence.
She had been sentenced to three years and nine months in jail in 2009 after admitting that she violently shook her four-month-old son in "a moment of madness", leaving him permanently brain-damaged. Together with her partner at the time, Newton Samuel Moki, Albert admitted charges of injuring with reckless disregard and failing to provide the necessities of life.
After being charged with the new offences in August 2012, Albert was recalled to prison and served the remaining nine months of her sentence.
She remained composed in the dock yesterday, though she wept as prosecutor Mark O'Donoghue made submissions on behalf of the Crown.
Mr O'Donoghue said her sentence should be increased on account of the 2009 conviction for a "similar harm offence". He said Albert had caused a serious degree of harm to her uncle.
Defence lawyer Tony Bamford said Albert had been dealing with "significant pressures" in her home life when she drove into her uncle.
Their dispute related to rent owed by Mr Albert. The court heard that he had the money but was "sadly fleeced" of it by a woman in an online dating scam.
Mr Bamford said Albert had been trying to prevent her uncle losing the money, and was struggling to organise her family's finances at the time. She was also the primary carer for her terminally ill grandmother, having put her performing arts studies on hold.
Mr Bamford said Albert was still young and had future prospects, and her family were prepared to support her after her release from prison. She accepted that she had a problem dealing with stress and anger, and needed to rein in her propensity for violence.
"It appears that her whanau's concern is not punishment now, but that she gets help."
That sentiment was echoed by Albert's grandfather after sentencing.
"We have a lot of support for her," he said.
It was to Mr Albert's credit that he had been "immensely forgiving", Mr Bamford said.
"Hopefully, that will allow everyone to put this behind them, even though the victim will suffer for the rest of his life."
Judge Barry read aspects of Mr Albert's victim impact statement. He had lost two jobs - driving forklifts at the Port Nelson and processing fish at Sealord - and had been living off a percentage of his normal income paid by ACC.
His amputation had rendered him "totally dependent on whanau for the simplest household tasks", and he had needed counselling to come to terms with the crippling injury.
He had also experienced "phantom pain", feeling numbness in a leg that no longer existed.
"Yet he expressed no bitterness towards you, nor grudge," Judge Barry told Albert.
He said she deserved a reduced sentence for the "genuine and palpable" remorse she had displayed since initiating a process of restorative justice with her uncle.
"You have attempted to heal the rift in your family. You clearly couldn't allay the suffering you caused your uncle, but you have done all you could to bring this family back together again," the judge said.
Outside court, Mr Albert said he would soon travel to Wellington to get a new, tighter fitting for his prosthetic leg, which he had slowly become accustomed to walking on.
"Like my counsellor told me, the only way to heal is to forgive," he said.
Mr Albert was an "incredible" man, having gone through such a horrific incident but maintaining a good spirit, Detective Constable Steve Arnold of Nelson said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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