Amigo Jacobi Sinclair-Beere and Lance Nielsen stood trial at the High Court at Auckland in November, jointly charged with the manslaughter of Joesph Tahana on February 19, 2022.
The Crown said the men inspired a fear so great Tahana tried to flee by climbing over his balcony and shimmying across a ledge to escape their robbery attempt as they banged on the door of his central Auckland apartment.
He lost his grip while hanging from a ledge and fell to his death.
They pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and also denied a joint burglary charge relating to the accusation they sneaked into the apartment building, then smashed in Tahana’s door before his death.
After two days of deliberation, a jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on each of the manslaughter and burglary charges.
The men appeared for sentencing on Thursday morning before Justice Geoffrey Venning, where they each received four years, 10 months in prison.
Tahana’s whānau, who sat through the trial and were commended in court for their quiet dignity while harrowing evidence was heard, were present in court for sentencing, including his mother and father. A victim impact statement on behalf of the wider whānau was read to the court.
“We feel you set out with intention to cause unbearable fear, pain and suffering to our mokopuna,” the statement said.
The death had caused huge devastation to Tahana’s whānau, who were frustrated at what they described as a lack of remorse shown by the men during their trial.
“We feel anger that you intentionally broke into his apartment then walked past him as he lay dead.”
They described him as a happy-go-lucky, non-confrontational character who would often hitch-hike to visit his dying grandmother in Pukekohe.
Amigo Sinclair-Beere was jointly charged with the manslaughter of Joesph Tahana and found guilty at trial. Photo / Chris McKeen, Stuff/Pool
Crown prosecutor Henry Steele sought a starting point of five years in prison.
A point of contention at the trial was whether the men actually made their way into Tahana’s 12th-floor apartment in St Paul St after banging on the door.
Steele said messages obtained by police sent during the incident suggested the men were in the apartment. They included one from Tahana to a friend saying “I’m under attack”.
“It would have been terrifying, and we know from what Mr Tahana did and said that he was terrified, and justifiably so,” Steele said.
In the weeks before his death, Tahana, who sometimes dealt small amounts of cannabis to support himself and his son, had become increasingly concerned he was under threat from gangs in the area.
Mark Ryan, representing Sinclair-Beere, said five years was too high as a starting point. He instead sought four years, with a three-month increase for his previous burglary convictions.
Ryan said a cultural report prepared for his client by sociologist and author Jarrod Gilbert made “compelling reading” and described exposure to drug dealing from an early age, methamphetamine addiction and mental health issues.
Lester Cordwell, lawyer for Nielsen, made similar arguments and also sought a four-year starting point.
He said his client had told him that when life wasn’t going well, he went to the methamphetamine pipe to escape. Cordwell said Nielsen had now engaged in a drug and alcohol programme in Mt Eden prison.
Justice Venning told Sinclair-Beere and Nielsen they were responsible for Tahana’s death and must have known he had fallen from the balcony.
That was because Sinclair-Beere texted an associate saying “bro we need help” and later sent a text saying they thought their robbery target might have fallen off the building, the judge said.
Justice Venning said a degree of planning and premeditation was involved and it was clear the men attempted to rob Tahana because of the way they snuck into his apartment.
He said it was clear they were prepared to use force to rob Tahana, who felt the only way to avoid the men after they broke down his door was to climb over the balcony.
The judge adopted a starting point for both men of four years and six months for manslaughter, uplifted by six months for the burglary conviction.
Sinclair-Beere had his sentence uplifted by six months because he was on bail for theft and burglary at the time of Tahana’s death, and for his previous violence and firearm convictions.
Justice Venning said Sinclair-Beere was not remorseful, but applied a discount of 12 per cent for health and other factors, including a previous brain injury. Nielsen received a small discount for cultural factors.
The end sentence for both men was four years and 10 months in prison.