Law expert says manslaughter plea “appalling” in child abuse case

By Talisa Kupenga

Three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri died after enduring two months of severe abuse and being denied medical treatment at the hands of his carers. Tania Shailer and David Haerewa pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the Rotorua District Court, but a criminal law expert says the Crown's acceptance of the plea is "absolutely appalling".

This criminal law expert says manslaughter is too light of a charge following the death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri.

University of Auckland Senior Law lecturer Khylee Quince says, “I do think in this particular case that it is an injustice. It would seem that there is enough evidence to go with a murder charge so I think it is entirely inappropriate given the scale and nature of the wrong-doing perpetrated on Moko to charge these people and for the Crown to accept a plea of guilty to manslaughter."

Quince says murder charges concerning child abuse cases almost always come under reckless murder, where the Crown is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a person intended to harm someone and knew they might die.

“Any reasonable person would know if you that if you stand on a toddler with force that they might die. That's all the crown needed to prove and I think accepting a plea of manslaughter rather than testing that evidence in respect of these two accused I think that it was an incorrect decision to make.”

Plea bargaining, where the Crown can accept a plea to lesser charges, became law in 2011.

Quince says, ‘I would argue that that would be appropriate when you're talking about lesser harm, but not in respect of murder and manslaughter."

Moko's now joins the list of other child abuse cases where perpetrators received manslaughter charges such as Nia Glassie, Delcelia Witika, Hinewaoriki Karaitiana-Matiaha known as Lillybing and James Whakaruru.

“We know that we have a horrific record in relation to child abuse. Child abusers should not be able to hide behind the fact that their abuse has occurred over a single period of time as opposed to a single one-off fatal incident,” says Quince.

Quince says either the legal culture has to change, where only murder is the accepted charge for cases like this, or a specific charge of child homicide is created.