22 Aug 2019

Ariah Roberts murder trial: Jury hears toddler's twin died at birth

5:07 pm on 22 August 2019

A jury in the trial of a man accused of murdering a Mangawhai toddler has been told the girl isn't the first child her mother has lost.

Aaron James Archer is accused of murdering a toddler at Mangawhai in Northland on 22 August 2018.

Aaron Archer Photo: RNZ/Anneke Smith

Today marks one year since Ariah Dawn Roberts died in the care of her mother's former boyfriend Aaron Archer in her Mangawhai home.

Mr Archer is on trial in the High Court at Auckland this month, accused of murdering the two-year-old who died of an acute brain injury.

The Crown says he assaulted Ariah when her mother popped out to the supermarket but he has said the girl hit her head when the pair were playing.

This morning the evidence of Dr Aaron Donald, a duty doctor called to the scene of the toddler's death, was read to the jury.

He told police he arrived at the house to find three women including Ariah's mother sitting at a picnic table and Mr Archer standing off by himself.

"Aaron looked to be in shock. He was holding his head, moaning and distressed. He couldn't keep still. He was pacing around and looked scared like a rabbit in the headlights."

He said first responders had stopped CPR on the toddler's body, which was wrapped in a pink dressing gown, by the time he entered the house.

"I had no objections as it was apparent nothing else was going to work. I went and spoke to [Ariah's mother] to advise her of the outcome.

"Before I was able to say anything to her she said 'don't tell me, don't tell me, I don't want to hear it'."

Mr Donald said the woman told him she had already lost a child - Ariah's twin - at birth and thought God was punishing her.

"She mentioned that she felt bad she had left Ariah with Aaron and wasn't home when it happened.

"While this was happening Aaron was trying to apologise to her and reassure her that it wasn't her fault ... [she] responded by telling Aaron to leave her alone."

The doctor said he spoke to Mr Archer, who asked him if Ariah was okay and what was going to happen next.

"I was concerned about him as he appeared quite agitated and was being ignored by the rest of the family.

"He told me 'we were playing, I swung her and she hit her head.'

"He told me she was shaking and he couldn't wake her up."

Mr Donald said he watched as Mr Archer approached Ariah's mother again and apologised but she either didn't hear him or ignored him.

On Tuesday St John Ambulance officer Josephine Grice said the defendant asked her colleague: "So what's the protocol now?

"Mark did reply to him something like 'you just have to wait and see what the police want us to do'.

"He said: 'I was just playing with her I was swinging her around and she hit her head on something."

Detective David Woodhams, whose evidence was also read today, spoke to the defendant at Wellsford Police Station.

"Archer appeared to be what I would describe as stunned. His eyes were fixated with minimal eye contact with me and had trouble following the conversation.

"He immediately displayed reluctance regarding providing an account and asked me whether a lawyer was required."

The jury heard the defendant spoke to a duty lawyer around midnight who instructed him not to speak to police, as is his right.

"I acknowledged his right to waiver making a statement but in fairness to him to put the allegation that he intentionally assaulted Ariah Roberts causing her death.

"He did not make any comment in response but shook his head sideways."

What is known of Mr Archer's account of what happened that night has come from various first responders who heard him say she hit her head while they were playing or he dropped her.

On Tuesday his defence lawyer Annabel Maxwell-Scott said her client didn't assault Ariah and the girl's death was a tragic accident.

The trial before Justice Whata and a jury is expected to finish by the end of next week.