Forensic evidence wrongly bagged, murder trial told

A High Court murder trial has been told that police lost an opportunity to gather forensic evidence during an East Coast homicide inquiry.

Lawrence Huihui Wawatai, 57, has been on trial in the High Court at Gisborne for more than a week, accused of murdering his long-term partner Maryann Akuhata, 48, by setting her on fire at their Tikitiki home on the East Coast on October 10, 2012.

The Crown case concluded yesterday.

Detective Benjamin Joel, the officer in charge of the homicide investigation, told the court the defendant was arrested and charged with murder on October 15.

However, the defendant's clothes were not tested for the presence of petrol because they had been put in the wrong sort of bags.

"Due to the way they were packaged, that evidence was lost."

Mr Joel denied a defence claim that he had deliberately held back a report by a New Zealand Fire Service fire investigator, from an ESR forensic scientist who had been tasked with writing a crime scene report.

Mr Joel said that decision was made by senior officers.

"I was not involved in that decision."

Undercover recordings taken while two police officers posed as criminals in the Gisborne police cells alongside the defendant were again played to the jury.

Detective Duncan Maclean from Hastings said he acted as the undercover agents' controller and was responsible for creating the fictional cover stories for two undercover police officers.

The stories included a drug deal that was fictitiously busted by the police and a second cover story that involved a fictitious arrest after a domestic altercation.

Under cross-examination by defence counsel Adam Simperingham, Mr Maclean said the aim of placing undercover police in the cells with Wawatai had been to gather additional information. It was not specifically to elicit a confession.

Wawatai is also charged with arson and assaulting a female.

The trial resumed today with the case for the defence.

- by the Gisborne Herald

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