14 Nov 2008

Secret witnesses testify at toddler murder trial

2:44 pm on 14 November 2008

Some of the witnesses at the trial of six men accused of murdering a Wanganui toddler gave evidence on Thursday by closed-circuit television and with their voices distorted to protect their identities.

A seventh man is also appearing before the High Court in Wellington, charged with being an accessory to the murder of two-year-old Jhia Te Tua in Wanganui in May last year.

One witness, whose name is suppressed, told the court he played in a league game attended by some of the accused on the day the toddler died.

He said he saw two of the accused arguing after the game, but he did not know what they were arguing about.

The witness said he knew some of those who were watching the game were Mongrel Mob Members, because he heard them shouting gang slogans.

The man said there was also a Black Power prospect in the league team, but that caused no problems and the prospect had a laugh with one of the Mongrel Mob members.

Witnesses also testified on Thursday about an altercation between a Black Power member and some of those accused of murdering a Wanganui toddler.

Four of the six men charged with murdering Jhia Te Tua are also charged with assaulting Damian Fantham on the same evening.

One of the witnesses said that during a party, Mr Fantham opened the door and Karl Check and Eru Nahona forced their way in and began punching and kicking him.

She said as he left Mr Check tried to explain what had happened, using a colloquial word to describe a Black Power member and asking, "What do you expect when we see one of them open the door?"

Wednesday's evidence

On Wednesday, a police officer told the High Court in Wellington that he witnessed a gang confrontation at a rugby league game in Wanganui on the day that Jhia Te Tua was shot.

Constable Dale Palmer told the court he was off duty on 5 May and went to the league game with his partner and their child.

He said he saw some Mongrel Mob members watching the game with their families, and some time later a group of Black Power members arrived, including Jhia's father, Josh Te Tua.

Mr Palmer said Mr Te Tua was carrying a piece of wood with nails in it, and that after a while the members of both gangs began making gestures at each other and behaving belligerently.

He said his partner was worried about what was happening and they left.

Tuesday's evidence

On Tuesday, Mr Te Tua told the court about gang confrontations he was involved in on the day of his daughter's death.

He said that on the morning of the shooting a car went past past his home and someone yelled out a Mongrel Mob slogan.

He described other confrontations outside his home later that day and said he tried to persuade his partner to leave the house but she would not go.

He said that later in the evening he heard shots fired and a short time later his partner said the baby had been shot.

Earlier, Jhia's mother broke down in tears as she told the court about events surrounding her daughter's death.

The Crown alleges the death arose from a confrontation between Mongrel Mob and Black Power members.

Ria Gardiner told the court she heard shots fired, grabbed her daughter from the couch where she was sleeping, and thought the child had gone to the toilet on her.

However, she soon realised the child had been shot and was bleeding.

She said she sat on the doorstep with the toddler, who was already dead.