Tania Shailer blames Moko for driving her to cause his death

SST Editor Jonno Millne can’t stand it either

When Clayton Weatherston sat straight-backed and straight-faced in the High Court in Dunedin, and argued he should be acquitted of murder because his girlfriend Sophie Elliott “provoked” him into stabbing her 216 times, a nation gagged.

His actions were provoked by “the emotional pain that she has caused me over the past year”, he whimpered, pathetically unable to take responsibility for his own actions. […]

Provocation was only ever a partial defence, based on the rationale that an assailant’s judgement might be so impaired by the victim’s actions that the attacker could not form an intent to kill. It was abolished only seven years ago, yet already it seems as anachronistic and ludicrous as the days when one could get off dangerous driving charges by arguing you were drunk and couldn’t be held responsible.

This year, 2016, provocation was no longer a defence available to Tania Shailer and David Haerewa as they tried to wriggle out of responsibility for the death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri in Rotorua. Instead, they were able to get the Solicitor-General to downgrade their charges from murder to manslaughter by persuading her she didn’t have the requisite proof that the prolonged beatings they dealt out to the small boy were administered with the intent of killing him. Yes, they hit, kicked, threw, bit, stomped and smothered the boy’s tiny body over days, probably weeks, but they never meant him to die, they insisted.

Now they have been successful in getting their charges downgraded, they’re not finished. To Moko’s family’s grief and anger, Shailer is appealing for a more lenient prison term – essentially arguing she was provoked to brutality by the behaviour of a three-year-old boy.

But didn’t New Zealand abolish the provocation defence, by Parliamentary vote and popular acclaim?

The difference, this time, is Shailer isn’t trying to get away with murder – she’s already done that. Now, she’s trying to persuade a Court of Appeal judge that Moko’s bad behaviour should be a mitigating factor in her sentencing.

To be fair, her defence lawyer Ron Mansfield (a decent man performing a thankless task) was careful to say that in highlighting Moko’s bad behaviour, he was simply trying to help the judge determine Shailer’s culpability, “and not to seek to blame Moko”. But when he goes on to say that Shailer’s actions were, in part, a result of Moko’s bad behaviour, it is impossible to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that we are seeing anew the loathsome defence of provocation.

There are many people who, if they had done things differently, might have ensured Moko was still alive today. Child, Youth and Family. Women’s Refuge. Perhaps even some in Moko’s troubled family. They will always carry that weight.

There are two people who are wholly responsible for their own actions, wholly to blame for Moko’s death. Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, do not go looking for excuses. Do your time, and in that time, try to learn to take responsibility.

There is one person who cannot carry any responsibility at all.

He was just a three-year-old child with a mischievous smile who should have had a life of joy and love ahead of him.

He was Moko Rangitoheriri.

Moko Rangitoheriri

Moko Rangitoheriri


– Jonathan Milne, Sunday Star Time

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