Leilani Mary-Jane Lotonu'u
was supposed to celebrate her fourth birthday today.
Instead a jury in the High Court at Auckland found her
stepfather Michael Joseph Martin, 25, not guilty of murdering
It also found him not guilty of manslaughter, and not guilty
of ill treatment or neglect of a child for failing to provide
Leilani with medical assistance.
The Crown said Martin struck the then-toddler's stomach with
a blow so severe it ruptured an internal organ and a
resulting infection proved fatal.
The defence said Martin was innocent and Leilani's mother Amy
Lorigan must have been responsible.
After hearing eight days of evidence, Justice Graham Lang
summed up yesterday, telling jury members the Crown case was
circumstantial and they must be sure Martin delivered the
blow and knew he was causing harm that could kill if he was
guilty of murder.
A finding of manslaughter was also available, he said.
Earlier defence lawyer Michele Wilkinson-Smith said the case
against Martin lacked evidence and was just a theory.
Martin did not know who injured Leilani and when told of her
injuries was "lost for words", she said.
Crown prosecutor Christine Gordon, QC, said in her closing
that Martin struck Leilani when Ms Lorigan was out shopping
between about 12 and 1pm on June 9, 2012.
Ms Gordon said Martin's conduct in an interview with police
was contrived and lacking emotion.
He did not give evidence at his trial.
Leilani was pronounced dead just before 6am on June 10, 2012,
when paramedics were unable to save her.
- By Jimmy Ellingham
and Patrice Dougan of APNZ