A sickness beneficiary whose body was found buried in a
shallow grave months after he disappeared had suffered a
severe beating before he died, including 36 rib fractures, a
Napier murder trial has heard.
Johnny Charles Wright, 50, disappeared on June 21, 2011, and
was reported missing by family on July 10.
Police said forensic evidence found at a Caroline Rd,
Hastings, flat suggested foul play and when the house was
cleared, blood was found on the lounge wall, floor and
ceiling, along with a few of his personal possessions.
By mid-August the case had gone cold and Hastings detectives
asked retired detective inspector and now Police Ten-7
frontman Graham Bell to give the suspected homicide some
Two weeks later a tip-off led to a search of a rural property
off Waipunga Rd, near Eskdale, where Mr Wright's body was
discovered in a shallow grave.
Steven Tiwini Rakuraku, 39, who lost name suppression this
morning in the High Court at Napier, faces 12 charges,
including the murder and kidnapping of Mr Wright in 2011.
This morning, Rakuraku fired his counsel, Russell
Fairbrother, and will now represent himself during his trial
before a jury of 10 women and two men.
Justice Joe Williams however appointed an amicus (friend of
the court), and to preserve the integrity of the trial Mr
Fairbrother will cross-examine the Crown witnesses instead of
Giving his opening address, Crown prosecutor Steve Manning
said the alleged offending took place over a 7-8 month span
in 2010 and 2011 across the central North Island and involved
four victims, including Mr Wright.
"Each of the four were unknown to Mr Rakuraku, and to each
other but they did have one thing in common. The manner in
which they were treated, dominated, manipulated, controlled,
intimidated and beaten, all four of them, one of them to the
point that he died."
He said Rakuraku was "driven by three things" - paranoia,
avoiding police following a warrant for his arrest in
February 2011, and needing money and a "safe house".
Mr Manning told the jury that Mr Wright was a "much loved
son, uncle and brother" who had a family that kept in contact
with him regularly.
"[Johnny] was quiet, shy and someone who kept to himself
which made him particularly vulnerable and unable to stand up
to Mr Rakuraku."
He said Mr Wright had been taken against his will and
severely beaten as Rakuraku used the 50-year-old and his
finances to ensure his safety and freedom from police.
"[Rakuraku] controlled where he slept, what he ate, when he
ate, whether he exercised and when he went to the toilet."
He said when Mr Wright's body was found a pathologist
determined he did not die a natural death.
"He had 36 rib fractures. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury
there are 24 ribs in the human body," Mr Manning said.
"He had fractures to his chest which essentially made it
impossible to breath. That is what he died of. It would have
been extremely painful as the ends of the ribs were rubbing
together...there was significant blood loss and he was
starved of oxygen."
Mr Manning described one sad occasion when Mr Wright's
father, attempting to search for his missing son, visited the
Caroline Rd flat but was allegedly told by Rakuraku that his
son was working and not home, then sent away.
"Johnny was in the house suffering from his injuries," Mr
He said after Rakuraku allegedly killed Mr Wright he painted
the inside of the flat and wiped it down with bleach in a bid
to remove the traces of blood and evidence from police if he
were to be caught.
Rakuraku is expected to give his opening address following
the lunch adjournment and said to Justice Williams this
morning: "Your honour, I have to look at my paper work."
The trial is scheduled to last several weeks.
- By Sam Hurley of the Hawke's Bay Today