15 Aug 2009

Community sentences for five in exorcism case

7:45 am on 15 August 2009

Community-based sentences have been imposed on five people found guilty of the manslaughter of Janet Moses, who died during an exorcism attempt in Wainuiomata.

In June this year, a Wellington High Court jury found John Rawiri and Glenys Wright guilty of the manslaughter of their niece Janet Moses.

The Crown said Rawiri and Wright had led the ritual that resulted in the death of Ms Moses in Wainuiomata, near Wellington, in 2007.

The 22-year-old drowned during a bizarre and prolonged attempt to drive out evil spirits. The family believed she had a makutu, or curse, and poured water into her eyes and down her throat.

Justice Simon France sentenced the pair to six months' community detention and 300 hours of community work. He also imposed curfews on them from 9pm till 6am.

The victim's aunts Aroha Wharepapa, Tanginoa Apanui and Angela Orupe were also found guilty of her manslaughter and were sentenced to community work and supervision.

Four of the five convicted have been ordered to attend a Maori tikanga (cultural) course and counselling.

The Crown had sought a starting point of five or six years' imprisonment for John Rawiri and Wright, and a starting point of two or three years for the other three, due to their lesser involvement.

Defence lawyers told the court their clients believed they were helping Ms Moses and they should not be sent to jail.

Outside court, Wright's lawyer Mike Antunovic said he thought Justice France's ruling was compassionate, which he believed the family deserved. Wharepapa's lawyer Greg King said the sentences were entirely appropriate.

Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy, who led the investigation, said the sentences are fair and accurately reflect a sad, tragic death in unique circumstances.

However, he believed the death could have been avoided if the family had sought outside help.

Concept of makutu 'not widespread'

Tui Adams, a teacher in Maori culture for the Tainui tribe, gave evidence at the trial and says the concept of a makutu, or curse, is no longer widespread amongst Maori.

Dr Adams says Maori leaders began warning against makutu-lifting ceremonies many years ago.

He told Checkpoint he has heard the ceremonies are still practised, but has travelled around New Zealand quite a bit and has not found any evidence of them.

Dr Adams says what happened to Janet Moses had nothing to do with any accepted Maori cultural practice.

He says the family had sought advice from a healer who had recommended that a simple prayer and cleansing ceremony that was nothing like what happened.

Dr Adams says the adviser then had to go to hospital and the family was left without further guidance. He says the family's sole goal was to help Ms Moses, not harm her.

Tui Adams says ordering family members to attend a Maori tikanga training course is a sensible move.