Jail terms total 26 years 8 months for prison killing

September 2, 2016 | By More

High Court-panoply1The sentencing began with a prayer in Maori, and it ended with jail terms totalling at least  26 years 8 months being imposed on the three men who killed 44-year-old Benton Marni Parata.

Akuhatua Tihi, 23, was jailed for life with a non-parole term of 13 years for Parata’s murder, while Levi Hohepa Reuben, 21, was jailed for seven years eight months, and Steven Betham, 38, for six years, both for manslaughter.

They were all found guilty by a jury at a two-week trial before Justice Gerald Nation in the High Court at Christchurch in June.

Family members told of the devastating effect of the prison cell attack at Christchurch Men’s Prison that killed Parata in March 2015. He died six days later in hospital, of unsurvivable head injuries.

They called the attack gutless and cowardly, against a man who was jovial, friendly, a natural athlete, and a protector of others. One spoke of the family missing his smile and his “slightly inappropriate drunk haka at gatherings”.

Parata’s mother, Maria Parata, said her son had been nicknamed “Lion King” because he treated all of his family like cubs.

At the time of his death, Parata had turned his life around and “his dreams were pumping”.

Parata had dreamed of reuniting his family – he had two children – once he had straightened himself out.

Family spoke of their grief during six days at Parata’s hospital bedside, until his death on March 31, 2015. Maria Parata described seeing him “helpless, smashed black and blue, tubes everywhere”.

A statement from his sister, Stephanie, read in court because she has since died, urged Corrections to take a serious look at its systems so that this did not happen again.

Crown prosecutor Deidre Orchard said the three had made comments in their pre-sentence interviews and to their defence counsel that sought to minimise their roles in what was a planned and vicious beating. The beating, which took place over 90 seconds, was apparently meted out because Parata had told a prison officer that Tihi had stolen an older inmate’s television.

The Crown asked for life with a 15-year non-parole term for Tihi, and said that Reuben must have known that really serious harm was being done to Parata. Betham’s role appeared to be the look-out, before he entered the cell near the end of the incident.

For Tihi, defence counsel Phil Shamy acknowledged the courage of Parata’s family in making their statements in court. He said Tihi had never intended that Parata would die – it was a reckless rather than deliberate killing. Tihi was a young man who had basically been in prison since he was 17, and had psychological issues.

James Rapley, for Reuben, said there was no evidence that there had been “multiple attackers”. He could be sentenced on the basis that he was present, giving support and encouragement, but not for committing the assault himself.

For Betham, Kerry Cook said his client acknowledged contributing to Parata’s death. There was no proof that Betham was involved in the planning of the attack. He had been asked to be a look-out.

Justice Nation thanked family members for eloquently reading their statements about a men who was obviously part of a large family which loved and respected him, and depended on him.

Parata was serving a brief prison term for driving offences, he said. He had conducted himself with mana during the jail term. It had been a serious, planned, and premeditated attack. He did not believe it was carried out just because Parata had intervened after another inmate’s television was stolen by Tihi.

“I think it just as likely that the attack was orchestrated because he had mana and demonstrated authority over other prisoners, which was resented,” he said.

He detailed Parata’s “horrendous” head injuries from the attack.

He said Tihi had a history of violent behaviour. “As a child, you were the victim of such behaviour as if it was a normal part of family life.”

The judge did not accept a defence suggestion that the brutal assault “could be considered normal within the prison environment”.

A non-parole term of four years was imposed on Reuben.

With barking like dogs, Mongrel Mob-style, the three began their jail terms.


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