Convicted murderer Nikki Roper has questioned why previous suicide attempts by the woman he was convicted of killing were not raised at his trial in the High Court at Christchurch.
He has taken his case to the Court of Appeal which was sitting in Christchurch today, calling evidence from a relative and questioning his lawyer at the trial, Simon Shamy, about why previous suicide attempts by Alexsis Maria Tovizi were not raised.
Roper was convicted by a jury in 2013 of the December 2010 murder of Miss Tovizi, and jailed for life. His appeal was heard by Justices Christine French, Raynor Asher, and Joe Williams.
Roper, who has previously claimed membership of the Mongrel Mob, appeared in the court chained by a belt to a prison officer on either side of him, with two more officers sitting just behind.
A relative of Roper, whose name is suppressed, gave evidence of meeting Alexsis Tovizi in 2010, which was a year later than an earlier statement she had made. They had discussed suicide attempts they had made, and she believed Miss Tovizi was “being truthful and honest and had actually tried to do these things”.
She initially said that when Roper had contacted her from the prison about the date of this meeting, she she checked her diary, but when the judges questioned her she admitted she did not have the diary with her because she had disposed of the diary when she moved in to a housebus. She had last looked at the diary months before the call from Roper.
She then told the court: “I got it wrong. I relied on my memory and not my diary. I lied. I’m sorry.”
Roper then questioned Mr Shamy about how he had contacted that witness twice about her meetings with Miss Tovizi but had not asked about previous suicide attempts.
Mr Shamy said he had not raised it because at that stage he had written instructions to progress the defence on the basis that Miss Tovizi, 21, may have died of a brain seizure as a result of alcohol consumption.
“There was no evidence at that stage to suggest she had committed suicide and there didn’t appear to be a great deal of need to stress that point with [the witness],” Mr Shamy said.
Roper also raised an issue of whether he was in breach a protection order taken out by Miss Tovizi at the time of the death and why this evidence had not been challenged.
Roper said his grounds for appeal related to his representation at the trial. He had wanted more experts to be called about the cause of death, and allegations of being in breach of a protection order had gone unchallenged. This could have led to a miscarriage of justice.
He said he had wanted evidence called about the nature of his relationship with Miss Tovizi, to counter Crown evidence that it was based on jealousy, manipulation, and abuse.
He said the trial had been unfair because he had not been allowed to sit behind his lawyer where he could communicate readily.
The Crown had unfairly called evidence about him attempting to pervert the course of justice when he had not been charged with that offence. He admitted offering a witness money to give evidence, but that was not illegal, and he had never asked her to lie. The evidence was prejudicial, but no charge had been laid.
The judge at the sentencing had relied on what he called “facts”, which were not correct, he said.
For the Crown, Annabel Markham, said there was no suggestion in the evidence of a breach of protection order. Evidence was given that Miss Tovizi did not always keep to the terms of the protection order that she had in place.
She said that by the time the trial ended the defence had moved away from the suicide theory and was concentrating on an alcohol-related seizure.
The Appeal Court reserved its decision and Justice French said it would be given in a few weeks.