A 39-year-old man has been found guilty of kidnapping and
murdering a Hawkes Bay sickness beneficiary.
Steven Tiwini Rakuraku faced 11 charges, including the murder
of the 50-year-old Johnny Charles Wright, who disappeared on
June 21, 2011.
Rakuraku was found guilty of 10 of the 11 charges at the High
Court in Napier including injuring with intent to injure and
perverting the course of justice. He was found not guilty of
threatening to kill one of the complainants.
The jury reached their verdicts today after deliberating for
a day and a half.
The verdicts also come just two days after the three year
anniversary of the Hastings man's murder, after he was bashed
and "pelted" by Rakuraku with a taiaha (Maori war weapon) and
later buried in a shallow grave near Eskdale.
After Rakuraku's former partner "came clean" to police and
led detectives to the grave, a pathologist discovered Mr
Wright's body had 36 rib fractures.
After firing his defence counsel on day one of the trial,
Rakuraku defended himself and delayed the trial on several
occasions, causing considerable angst among the large group
of Mr Wright's family and friends who attended the
Rakuraku vehemently denied all the charges against him
throughout the three week trial, held before Justice Joe
His former representation, Russell Fairbrother QC and Leo
Lafferty, were appointed amicus curiae (friend of the court)
by Justice Williams to preserve the integrity of the court.
Crown prosecutor Steve Manning said last week, during his
closing submissions, that a current of fear had run through
Rakuraku had been on the run from police in 2011 and used,
intimidated and beat his victims to gain control of their
"safe houses" and finances in a desperate bid to escape the
"The whole narrative begins because Mr Rakuraku was fearful
of the police," Mr Manning said.
"He then sought to survive by using other people, and the
tool he used was fear."
He said Rakuraku was a "bully" who dominated and controlled
Mr Wright, whom he had selected carefully.
"He chose the weak. He chose people who were vulnerable,
weaker than him, smaller than him," he said.
Rakuraku's former partner, who also testified for the Crown,
had been "a witness to it all", he said.
"She was there at the finish when the last shovel full of
soil was put over Johnny's body on Waipunga Rd.
"She could have done more - no one's going to dispute that
... she should not be judged for what she didn't do, but for
what she did do."
He said Mr Wright was also the "perfect candidate" for
Rakuraku to target and manipulate.
"He was the sort of person who would not fight back, he was
the sort of person who would not resist, and finally he was
the sort of person who would not go to the police."
Mr Manning said that Rakuraku also made efforts to expunge
the evidence and hide clues from the police.
"By the time police got into the house, it had been cleaned
up, bleached, stuff taken to the dump in a determined effort
to clean the flat up."
He described a "poignant" moment when Mr Wright's father had
the "last opportunity to see his son alive", as he visited
the Caroline Rd flat during the search for his missing boy.
"That was Johnny's last chance and Mr Rakuraku took it away
He said the expert medical witnesses had made it "crystal
clear" that Mr Wright had died as a direct result of the 36
rib fractures, some caused by the taiaha beating, two days
before his death.
Rakuraku burned the taiaha after the attack to prevent police
finding the weapon.
The Crown's prosecution was led by Mr Manning and Jo Reilly.
During Rakuraku's last opportunity to convince the jury of
his innocence, he said he "religiously" practiced tai chi and
"Do you see someone who does that turning into a monster?
"Don't forget justice is not revenge. It's about truth, not
prejudice," he said in closing on Friday.
Mr Fairbrother said, during his closing submissions, the jury
had listened to some disturbing evidence.
"You've heard some terrible things in this trial, some things
you will probably never forget."
- By Sam Hurley of the Hawke's Bay Today