Death after 11 months awaiting trial
A Nelson man has died in Christchurch Men's Prison after spending 11 months in jail awaiting trial.
Zachariah (Zac) Beaudine Hita-Tangohau, 20, was found dead at the prison on Saturday.
Hita-Tangohau's lawyer, Steve Zindel, said his client had waited 11 months in custody and still had another two months until his trial.
Zindel worried that the change in the committal process, which came into effect in June 2009, was causing longer delays for trials which placed stress on offenders and victims.
Zindel said he believed his client might have become depressed at being refused bail. Hita-Tangohau was refused electronic bail in September and in January.
Zindel said his client had a light record when it came to violent offending but had some past breaches of bail.
"He was under 20 when he was put in custody and there is supposed to be some special kind of allowance for young people because they are quite fragile," he said.
"You always hear about bail in terms of public safety but the prisons are not a very safe place either."
On September 13 when Judge Tony Zohrab denied Hita-Tangohau bail he said he was aware of his age, but was concerned about past bail breaches.
Christchurch Men's Prison manager John Roper said staff provided medical assistance but were unable to revive Hita-Tangohau and he was pronounced dead when ambulance staff arrived a short time later.
The death was not considered suspicious and had been referred to the coroner. The independent Corrections Inspectorate will also investigate the death.
Hita-Tangohau had denied a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to a violent assault near Nelson's Church Steps last September, which resulted in a man's elbows being broken. Four other men were also charged in relation to the attack.
Zindel said it was a group attack and Hita-Tangohau claimed he was not part of the assault.
He found Hita-Tangohau a respectful and nice client who was always easy to deal with. He had last spoken to the 20-year-old last week and he had not shown any signs of being unhappy.
In 2008, Hita-Tangohau was sentenced to 21 months jail after injuring five people in a car crash.
In 2007, he was convicted of burglary after a smash-grab-raid in Richmond at the Cash N Trade shop. He was denied bail before sentencing at that time because he had committed serious offences on bail and had a record of failing to appear in court.