A teen has assured the Christchurch court he never intended to carry out serious violence he threatened against children as part of his efforts to extort money from two families.
The offending was described as “evil and sinister” by the judge who imposed home detention and community work.
The 17-year-old had threatened the families that children’s arms “would snap like twigs” unless demands that totalled $27,000 were met.
The youth has met both families at restorative justice conferences and was in tears at one of the meetings, defence counsel Richard Maze told the Christchurch District Court. “It showed restorative justice at its best and most effective.”
Reading about the effects of the extortion on the community, and the process of being caught, arrested, and charged had led to progress in the youth developing empathy.
Mr Maze said: “He never intended to carry out any of the threats. It is highly doubtful the defendant would have been capable of carrying out the threats he made.”
Judge Brian Callaghan suppressed the name of the youth, and the victims and their families, as well as the school and the locality where the offending occurred. The youth had admitted charges of demanding with menaces and was appearing for sentence.
The youth had dropped off letters demanding money in the families’ mailboxes and had checked the drop-off points to see if payments had been made. When there were no payments made, the demands escalated.
Mr Maze said the youth had been subjected to bullying and social isolation, but he was no longer in the bullying environment. His family was supporting him and his grandparents had paid for him to do an adventure training course, where he had flourished. He was working to repay them.
He had saved $1846 and was offering $1800 as emotional harm reparations to the families.
The police said the offending had been motivated by personal greed and Mr Maze acknowledged that the youth’s motives had been “wholly selfish”.
Mr Maze said the youth had “a total lack of empathy” at the time. He said: “He lacked the ability to have any understanding of the effects his actions would have on the victims, on the community, and his family. It had very significant effects on all three.”
Judge Callaghan said the youth was now under treatment by a psychologist. He noted that research indicated adolescents, particularly males aged 15 to their early 20s, had difficulty comprehending the consequences of their actions.
“There can be no getting away from the fact that this offending, from a criminal perspective, was evil and sinister,” he said.
A psychiatrist diagnosed possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but also referred to the youth’s inability to express his sexual orientation to those around him having caused “mental deficits”.
He said it was moving, the way the victim families had responded. The parents were concerned for the youth’s recovery and rehabilitation as much as for their own children. Their responses had been charitable, benevolent, understanding, and compassionate. The victims wanted name suppression for themselves and their families.
He said there was not likely to be further offending and it was not necessary for the community to be protected from the possibility of any further “odd, albeit serious behaviour” by the youth.
He took the psychiatric background and treatment into account and imposed five months of home detention, including rehabilitation, 160 hours of community work, and emotional harm reparations of $900 to each family.