Supervision for role in fatal drugs shake-down

A 31-year-old whose manslaughter conviction for the death of Ashburton man Arran Gairns was overturned on appeal has now been released on supervision.

Kooly Mangaki Te Tomo was found guilty of manslaughter and assault with intent to rob at a week-long trial in the High Court at Timaru in May 2017.

However those convictions were overturned on appeal, after he had been jailed for four-and-a-half years, and had served 19 months in prison.

No retrial went ahead. Instead, the Crown dropped the manslaughter charge over the May 2014 drugs shake-down that led to Mr Gairns’ death in a freezing pond, and Te Tomo pleaded guilty to the charge of assault with intent to rob.

That led to a complex sentencing exercise for Justice Rob Osborne in the Christchurch High Court, almost two years after the original sentencing.

He told Te Tomo the drugs robbery – luring Mr Gairns to a quiet place where people lay in wait to steal his methamphetamine – had been premeditated and organised.

Mr Gairns was assaulted, but not by Te Tomo, and he was threatened with a machete and a “boot ride”. He ran away from the group twice, hiding in a levee area on a freezing night. They found him once but could not find him the second time and his body was found drowned in the ponds 36 hours later.

Justice Osborne told Te Tomo: “You are not to be held responsible for causing his death, but you do have responsibility for creating in Mr Gairns such a state of fear and concern that there could be a disastrous outcome.”

The court heard submissions from Crown prosecutor Andrew McRae and defence counsel James Rapley QC on whether further prison time should be imposed – which would result in Te Tomo’s likely immediate release because of the time he had already served – or a term of intensive supervision.

Justice Osborne acknowledged the presence of Mr Gairns’ family members in court for the sentencing, and said he had read their victim impact reports which had been read in court at the earlier manslaughter sentencing.

He noted that Te Tomo had spent 19 months in jail before his successful appeal, and had spent a long period on strict bail conditions awaiting trial. He also noted the contents of a cultural report on his background, arranged by the defence.

“It shows your childhood was marked by a series of extraordinary tragic events which provide at least a backdrop to the offending though they don’t cut across the criminality of what you did on that evening to Mr Gairns.”

The events included the burning down of his childhood home, the death of his brother, and involvement in a fatal car crash. There were issues of post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, grief, and survivor guilt.

He noted that Te Tomo had made progress by himself with rehabilitation in the six months since his release after the appeal. He had been living in the North Island with his sister, distancing himself from associates, and gaining a job.

Justice Osborne decided to release him under intensive supervision for 18 months, to continue living with his sister and to be subject to special conditions including counselling and treatment programmes through a departmental psychologist.

Since the appeal, suppression orders have prevented coverage of the court proceedings, but Justice Osborne lifted those orders today.