‘Cowardly’ attack on prison officer

A judge has called a prisoner serving life for murder a coward for his surprise bashing of a Corrections officer in Otago prison.
Judge Stephen O’Driscoll could not add any jail time to the life term with a 14-year non-parole term that Johnnie Puna is already serving.
But he imposed a two-year six-month term on the 21-year-old, and told him: “Although I can’t make it a cumulative sentence, I have no doubt that the Parole Board will take it into account when it considers your eligibility for release.”
Puna appeared with his hands manacled to his belt, for sentencing in the Christchurch District Court after admitting a charge of injuring the officer in circumstances where if death had occurred he would have been guilty of manslaughter.
Judge O’Driscoll warned him at the start that if he caused any disturbance in court he would be taken out and the sentencing would go ahead in his absence. Puna remained quiet.
Defence counsel Lee Lee Heah said the assault happened after months of frustration from constantly applying for transfer to a North Island prison. He has family in the North Island but none in the South Island. “All these applications to be moved were rejected.”
She said there were still hopes for Puna’s rehabilitation. “He has not given up on himself. He wants to do his best over the next 14 years so that he has the best chance of parole.”
Puna was found guilty in November 2017 at a week-long trial in the Napier High Court, for the murder of Mark Beale in a vicious and prolonged attack at Haumoana, Hawke’s Bay, on February 6, 2017.
Puna was aged 19 at the time, and had been drinking with Beale. Beale had apparently fallen and caused Puna to fall and graze his chin as he went down, which triggered a 40 to 60 minute attack with a series punches and kicks when the pair then reached a fishing spot. Puna urinated on Beale before leaving him on the riverbank where he was found. He died in hospital.
Judge O’Driscoll noted previous convictions for aggravated robbery and murder.
He said the latest assault took place at 9.15am on January 8, in the Otago Corrections Facility near Milton, when Puna was let out of his cell for morning recreation.
Without warning, Puna punched the officer in the face, and followed that up with left and right hook punches. The officer had no chance to protect himself in the assault that smashed his glasses.
Puna then lay face down and put his hands behind him to be handcuffed.
The officer received a 1cm cut above his temple, cuts to his lower lip needing four stitches, and a hole where a tooth had gone into his lip.
“My assessment is that this was a cowardly attack,” said Judge O’Driscoll. “The violence occurred without warning. The fact that you were prepared to lay on your stomach and put your hands behind your back indicates the type of person you are.”
He told Puna: “Quite frankly, the decision as to where you serve your life sentence is entirely up to the prison authorities.”
Puna was assessed a high risk offender, he said. The attack was clearly premeditated, and was carried out on a man who was simply doing his job to protect the community.
He made an order for Puna to pay reparations of $1627 for the officer’s glasses.