12 Oct 2021

Trial of Black Power members over Mongrel Mob member Kevin Ratana's death begins

5:02 pm on 12 October 2021

The jury deciding whether or not two top Black Power members were responsible for the death of a Mongrel Mob member will hear two very different versions of events over the next six weeks.

Mongrel Mob members in Whanganui for Kevin Ratana's funeral.

Mongrel Mob members in Whanganui for Kevin Ratana's funeral. Photo: RNZ/ Robin Martin

The Crown has accused the Whanganui Black Power president Damien Kuru and another senior member Gordon Runga of killing Kevin Ratana because he dared live in an area deemed "their turf".

Ratana, 27, was shot in the neck outside his Castlecliff home in August 2018 and died instantly.

Damien Kuru and Gordon Runga have both pleaded not guilty to one charge of murder and one charge of participation in an organised criminal group.

They are on trial in the High Court in Wellington in front of a jury of six men and six women.

Prosecutor Chris Wilkinson-Smith said it must have been high on the Black Power's "list of business" to get rid of Ratana, after he began spending more time in Castlecliff with his partner who had two young children.

"A Mongrel Mob member living in their territory is completely unacceptable to them ... it's a provocative insult in their eyes."

"He was very visibly in another gang, he would wear the red colours and on the odd occasion his patch."

Wilkinson-Smith said Ratana had embarrassed the Black Power and "fanned the flames" in the weeks leading up to 21 August 2018.

"About a week earlier Mr Ratana was in a car and was waiting with some others ... two Black Power members spotted him. They armed themselves with poles and came for him.

"However, that attempt to confront or intimidate didn't go as expected because Mr Ratana got out and confronted them with a firearm and they had to turn and flee."

He said on the morning of the killing, Runga assembled members and at about 9.30am four men on foot as well as others in three cars drove about 300 metres down the road to Ratana's house. The men held weapons, including two shotguns.

As well as Ratana and his partner, two other adults, a young child and a baby were in the house at the time.

Black Power members stood out the front and yelled, then began smashing Ratana's car.

When Ratana came out to confront them, armed with a sawn off shotgun, he was shot.

Wilkinson-Smith said it was the Crown's case that Runga fired the fatal shot, but that gang president Kuru was also responsible for the murder.

Two further shots were fired after the killing, and Wilkinson-Smith said in the days that followed there was fortification at the Black Power headquarters, with members gathering guns and ammunition, in preparation for retaliation from the Mongrel Mob.

However, lawyers for the two men put forward a very different version of events.

Kuru's lawyer Paul Keegan said defence's case was very straightforward.

"He had nothing to do with the attack ... he wasn't there. He had no part in it and had no idea anything had happened until it was done."

He said the only reason Kuru had been implicated was simply because he was the president of the Whanganui chapter.

"Without that crown on his head he would not be sitting there today. The Crown's case is that he ordered this hit, but not one witness will tell you that."

He said the jury would hear evidence that after the event Kuru was extremely angry and called a meeting demanding to know who was responsible.

Likewise, Runga's lawyer Carrie Parkin said her client was not even in the street at the time.

"He was not a participant ... he was not one of the males striking the cars, he was not in any car, not in possession of any firearm and he did not discharge any firearm.

"He was not in Puriri Street at the time."

She asked the jury to keep an open mind and not jump to any conclusions.

Four other Black Power members have previously plead guilty to a range of charges relating to Ratana's death including manslaughter, murder and participation in a criminal group.

Over the six weeks the trial is set down for 120 witnesses will testify, including eye witnesses, police staff, scientists, gang experts and a Black Power member who was involved in Ratana's killing but has been granted Crown immunity in exchange for testifying.