Thief says she took off on mission of mercy

Determined thief Donna Reta Mareraki admits it was “the dumbest decision of my life” to cut off her electronic bail bracelet and go on the run, but she claims it was a mission of mercy.

Mareraki, 33, was on the run for a month before she handed herself in to the police in Timaru. She’s been held in custody from then until her sentencing today on 23 charges in the Christchurch District Court today.

Defence counsel Vicki Walsh said Mareraki had been on electronic bail for nearly eight months at the time, but had met someone online during that period.

Mrs Walsh said: “She learnt he was at risk of harming himself or harming other people, and in a desire to stop that from happening she made one of the dumbest decisions of her life. She cut off her bracelet to avoid the escalating position for this partner, who is no longer in her life.”

A home detention sentence for Mareraki may have been considered, but Judge Tom Gilbert said after she absconded it was “no longer on the table”.

She had admitted charges of theft, receiving stolen property, assault, and resisting a police officer.

The judge jailed her for 22 months, noting that with her time in custody on remand she had already served the equivalent of a 13-month sentence. He imposed six months of post-release conditions, hoping that when she is released she can go straight into a residential rehabilitation facility.

He hoped this would enable her to “make a go of your life on the outside”. Mareraki wants help to get over her drug addiction, and to get her children returned to her.

Last year she admitted stealing high value items mainly from clothing stores in a series of raids that involved her sprinting off and driving away in a car she had parked outside. It had regular changes of number plates.

She admitted assaulting a shop worker when staff locked the door to stop her leaving one store, and she admitted resisting and scratching the face and arms of a police sergeant who arrested her.

Police said she was with another offender when they went to The Warehouse at Eastgate and loaded a garden swimming pool worth $932 onto a sack barrow. While the other offender distracted staff, Mareraki wheeled the pool out of the shop. The pair then loaded it into the back of a vehicle and drove away.

She got away with stock worth a total of $23,000 but the judge said it was unrealistic to order her to pay any reparations. He noted the stores offered regular discounts so the actual losses might not be so high.

Mrs Walsh said the offending had been driven by Mareraki’s drug addiction, which had led to her children being taken away. “Drugs have essentially ruined her life.”

At a time when her children were prevented from seeing her, she had lapsed into depression and drug use, and had been the victim of violence by a person who was no longer in her life. “All these factors tipped her over. She resorted to criminal offending to fund her drug addiction.”

She now wanted drug rehabilitation and was desperate to regain custody of some of her children. One teenage daughter had already been returned to her. “Clearly, [Mareraki] is not available for that young lady now, but she intends to be, in the near future.”

Mrs Walsh said: “There needs to be some wrap-around supports. Her children are driving her desire to change. Any help she is offered, she will take with both hands.”