25 Nov 2009

Two girls found guilty of murdering 78-year-old

10:03 pm on 25 November 2009

Two teenage girls have been found guilty of murdering a retired teacher who was beaten to death in Opotiki a year ago.

John Rowe, who was 78, was found dead in his bed by neighbour Ted Gibson, who has told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint that the discovery will stay with him for the rest of his life.

The injuries Mr Rowe sustained were indescribable, Mr Gibson says; how a young woman could inflict such brutal injuries on a defenceless man was beyond his comprehension.

Charges were laid against Courtney Pauline Churchward, who was 17 at the time, and Lori-Lee Waiora Te Wini, 14 at the time. The suppression of the latter's name was lifted after the jury delivered its guilty verdict.

The Crown told the jury that the pair planned to rob Mr Rowe and attacked him with his own walking stick and a broom handle as he lay recovering from a leg injury.

Churchward admitted hitting Mr Rowe but said she never meant to kill him.

A tragedy for the whole community - police

Mr Rowe's daughter, Wendy Rowe, told a media conference late on Wednesday afternoon that his family was satisfied with the outcome and believe the jury made the right decision.

But the family had heard some distressing things over the past few days that they would have to take away and learn to live with.

An uncle of Te Wini who wished to be identified only as Keith delivered an apology from the girls' families.

Detective Inspector Rob Jones told Checkpoint that the death was a tragedy not only for Mr Rowe's family but also for the girls' families and the Opotiki community. It was cowardly, he says, and defies explanation.

Churchward and Te Wini will be sentenced on 18 December.