501 deportee sentenced for violent attack on juggler

Michael Wahrlich was known in Wellington as Mike the Juggler and died in a fire at his...
Michael Wahrlich was known in Wellington as Mike the Juggler and died in a fire at his accommodation earlier this year. Photo: NZ Herald

Warning: Content may be upsetting for some readers.

A year before Loafers Lodge fire victim Michael "Mike the Juggler" Wahrlich died, he was beaten for almost 20 minutes in his home by a man wanting a cigarette.

After laying bloodied on his floor for 24 hours, he was found by his friends who thought it was strange they had not seen the Wellington "icon" doing what he loved best - juggling.

Wahrlich was one of five who died in the Loafers Lodge fire in May this year, but in April 2022, he and 501 deportee Jade Akarana Arena were both living at the lodge.

About 10.55pm on April 29 last year, Arena, 41, knocked on Wahrlich's apartment door, the Wellington District Court heard today.

Jade Akarana Arena was sentenced in the Wellington District Court today. Photo: Hazel Osborne
Jade Akarana Arena was sentenced in the Wellington District Court today. Photo: Hazel Osborne
According to a police summary of facts, the pair did not know each other but made "polite conversation" in the doorway before Arena asked Wahrlich for a cigarette.

Wahrlich agreed, but told Arena he could only afford to give him one.

Arena entered the apartment and soon after began making unfounded accusations against the 67-year-old busker.

He then launched an assault on Wahrlich, landing blows to his face and head in an attack that lasted 17 minutes, according to the summary of facts.

During the beating, Arena taunted his victim, asking him: "Do you want some more?"

Wahrlich suffered fractures to his face and head, multiple brain bleeds and bruising and swelling.

He spent a month in the Wellington Intensive Care Unit and five months in rehabilitation. His sister said he was changed forever.

No explanation for his offending was given to police by Arena.

In court, Wahrlich's sister Margaret gave an emotional victim impact statement.

"To this day I cry and mourn my brother - but it's not only because he isn't with us anymore, but the thought of him being in pain and struggling after the beating makes me angry and sad," she said.

"He simply wanted to live his days doing what he loved best, that was juggling and putting a smile on the face of people ... he was an icon and important to a lot of lives.

"That all changed for him the night you, Jade Arena, knocked on his door."

Crown prosecutor Madeleine Story said the gravity of Arena's offending warranted "nothing short of home detention" and said he had not shown any remorse.

Defence lawyer Louise Sziranyi submitted her client had experienced depression and addiction when he was deported to New Zealand four years ago, under Section 501 of Australia's Migration Act.

The policy allows for the cancellation of visas on character grounds if someone has a substantial criminal record or has been sentenced to imprisonment for 12 months or longer.

Sziranyi said Arena was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia with his family at 4 months old. He remained there for the next three-and-a-half decades.

Arena, a father of seven, unsuccessfully fought his deportation and, in the process, spent two years on Christmas Island.

In New Zealand, he has no family, friends and fell into homelessness, addiction and depression, Sziranyi said.

But he had since completed a programme that has "set him on a better path", was working as a roofer and had a stable living situation.

Judge Bruce Davidson said the injuries Wahrlich suffered were serious, pointing to the months he had spent in hospital.

However, he accepted Arena had found a beacon in the pro-social programme RRR (Triple R), which helped him reintegrate into society.

The judge said home detention would impact Arena's employment and "for that reason, and that reason alone" he imposed the community-based sentence.

On a charge of wounding with intent to injure, Arena was sentenced to six months of community detention, coupled with nine months of intensive supervision.

 - By Hazel Osborne
Open Justice multimedia journalist, Wellington