Father who killed two year old daughter jailed

Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 7 September 2017, 10:56AM
Amokura Daniels-Sanft, 2, died in the most tragic of circumstances at her family home. (Photo / Supplied)
Amokura Daniels-Sanft, 2, died in the most tragic of circumstances at her family home. (Photo / Supplied)

Graphic content warning: Some readers may find this story disturbing.

She was playing in the driveway of her family home.

But her 2-year-old life was cut short in the most tragic and gruesome of circumstances.

The culprit: her father.

Amokura Daniels-Sanft died after she was shot in the head on June 2 last year.

It was a Thursday, and a day her family should have looked back on fondly - they were moving from their South Auckland home on Favona Rd to begin a new life in West Auckland.

It quickly became a day of horror - etched in the memories of all those who were there.

Gustav Sanft after an earlier High Court appearance in relation to the death of his daughter. (Photo / Doug Sherring)

Gustav Otto Sanft, 26, was sentenced today in the High Court at Auckland after a jury found him guilty of his daughter's manslaughter. He had earlier pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a pistol, a sawn-off shotgun.

The guilty verdict came after an emotionally draining trial during the later half of July this year.

Amokura, who was playing on a couch, was shot just above her left eye at "close range", causing her skull to fracture as she suffered a "significant and unsurvivable head wound".

Sanft had been toying with the modified weapon when it fired.

Three police vehicles, which happened to be driving past the address to another callout at the time, were waved down.

"The scene that police arrived at was chaotic and traumatic," Crown prosecutor Katie Hogan said at trial.

Today, Justice Geoffrey Venning imprisoned Sanft, who has other convictions, to four years and four months behind bars.

The judge said Sanft continues to maintain he didn't know the gun was loaded and that it "just exploded".

"Mr Sanft, having heard the evidence at trial I have a clear view of what happened.

"You were much more familiar with the shotgun than you intend to accept."

Justice Venning said the fact Sanft did nothing to dispose of the gun, despite his claimed hatred of firearms, was hard to fathom.

Despite the gun being modified and faulty, firearms experts had found it would not fire on its own and the trigger had to be pulled.

"The shotgun did not just explode, you pulled the trigger," Justice Venning said.

The judge said he had "real reservations" as to whether Sanft had shown true remorse or just "self-pity".

Amokura's mum Julia Daniels, 29, spoke about how her daughter's life was "cut short at the hands of her daddy" on "an unforgettable day".

Tears streaming down her face, she said a "stupid reckless accident" had torn apart her family - but also made them stronger.

The loss of Amokura, Daniels and Sanft's first child together, had "stung their relationship".

"She was definitely his pride and joy," Daniels said, who is pregnant with the couple's next child.

"I know this is a painful situation for Gustav and me. Gustav has to live with his guilt for the rest of his life," she said.

Her children have spent the past month without a father figure, while Sanft has been in custody.

"Being a solo mother wasn't part of the plans," Daniels said.

Her children wake and "look around wondering where he is".

"How am I meant to explain this to babies?"

Daniels said Sanft punishes himself constantly for his actions.

"I see it every day," she said. "All I can ask is that God have mercy on his soul."

However, she said her partner belonged at home, "not locked behind bars", as she hoped to turn the tragic day into helping create gun safety awareness for the community.

"[I want to show] how dangerous firearms can be and the impact they can have in the hands of an amateur."

Piripi Daniels, the paternal grandfather of Amokura and father of Daniels, was tearful as he recalled how he felt the day the toddler died.

"Our lives changed forever, I was physically and emotional distraught and in utter confusion.

"There are no words to describe my feelings other than feeling in shock," he said of how "the short and beautiful life of our mokopuna" was ended.

"I cried with hurt, passion and utter despair.

"I also had to prepare myself to lift Amokura from the scene to the hearse.

"The following days are laden with grief, consolation and grief but our love for Amokura, Julia and subsequently Gustav superseded that.

"I know Gustav will forever regret his actions that day, as we will too.

Defence counsel Phil Hamlin said the court could impose no punishment that Sanft already had to live with.

He said Sanft wasn't blaming the gun, but stands by his recollection that the gun exploded.

Hamlin read a letter from Sanft that said, "nothing will bring my beautiful baby back".

There was "more healing" to be done, Hamlin said.

Mum's anguish: 'They wouldn't let me get to my baby'

Amokura Daniels-Sanft, 2, died in the most tragic of circumstances at her family home. (Photo / Supplied)

The toddler's mum Julia Daniels spoke as a witness during the trial.

She said the day Amokura died she had left the home to hire a skip as the family prepared to move homes.

Battling tears, Daniels said an enthusiastic Amokura wanted to come with her. But she told her daughter to stay at home with her father.

After being unable to hire a skip, Daniels, a mother of four, stopped for a quick bite to eat.

"That's when I got the phone call," she said.

"All I remember is that she told me I needed to get home, I needed to get home."

She sped home.

"As soon as I came to the intersection I could see where the corner of the house was, I could see the fire engine and the ambulance and it just made me panic.

"I tried to get into my house but they stopped me. I think it was the police but I can't remember," she said during her emotional testimony.

"They wouldn't let me get to my baby. I couldn't see anything. I could hear [Sanft] crying.

"All I remember is I just wanted to go and hug my baby."

She said Amokura was "Daddy's girl".

"Amo was [Sanft's] baby, he was just the best father to her. He loves them all unconditionally, he wouldn't favour any of our kids."

'We need to know what happened'

The sawn-off shotgun had been modified and was tested by police after the incident. (Photo / NZ Herald​)

"I had the gun. And I was swinging it around, playing," Sanft told Detective James Ralph just hours after Amokura died.

"I didn't know it was loaded. Ah f**k. The gun doesn't work. It never does."

A video of the police interview was played to the jury during the trial - Sanft sobbed in the dock in the same fashion he did on the television screen.

"It all happened so fast. I was playing with it. I was playing with it. And then it exploded.

"That's it, it exploded. I pulled the trigger."

Sanft had fired a 1.98kg, 450mm long shotgun. The injuries to his daughter were catastrophic.

The weapon, a Norinco JW87 12-gauge single-barrel shotgun, was loaded with one Winchester buckshot round before Amokura was shot.

It sat at the front of the courtroom throughout the trial.

The day before Amokura died Sanft's older children were clearing out a hot water cupboard at the house where the gun was wrapped in a purple sheet.

Sanft did not have a secure gun safe at the home nor a firearms licence. The gun had been left there by a friend.

Haunting scene for first responders

The emergency crews who arrived at the scene that day have said it was a harrowing sight. (Photo / Jason Oxenham)

After Amokura was shot emergency services were quickly at the scene.

During the trial, Senior Constable Jackie Fyfe, who was one of the first police officers to arrive, gave her harrowing testimony in a courtroom filled with emotion.

She had been on the way to do a fraud-related search warrant with Constable Yutaro Kanai when she was waved down on Favona Rd.

Without hesitation she ran into the chaos.

"I was confronted by [Sanft] holding a small child. He was covered in blood," she said.

"And there was a large pool of blood on the ground when I ran in."

She asked Sanft to give her the child - he didn't reply.

"In fact the entire time he was there he was just making a noise, it was just a howling noise," she said through tears, as Sanft and members of the jury become emotional.

"My job was to check if that child was alive, so I went up to him further and said, I asked him to 'give me the child' but there wasn't a response so I looked at her, I didn't know it was a little girl, I looked ..."

It was a sight that will likely remain with the experienced officer throughout her career and life.

"She wasn't moving and she didn't have half of her head."

Kanai, realising what his colleague had witnessed, yelled to Fyfe.

"He just said, 'get away, get away'," Fyfe said.

Kanai pushed her away, and she turned her attention to three children in a car.

"There was a small child, probably about 1, and two other children maybe about 6 or 7, they were young, they were like primary school kids.

"I grabbed the baby, the 1-year-old, and I covered its face with my jacket and I ran back out to the gate."

Fyfe then ran back to the car, again and again, shielding the children one by one.

"There was no way that there was any sign of life," she said referring to Amokura.

Sirens, growing louder, could be heard as the fire brigade arrived.

"Just run, you just need to run into the scene, I just need to know if that child is alive," she told the advanced paramedic on the fire crew.

"[Sanft] was still holding her, and I turned around and just came to the front of the driveway and just burst into tears."

Fyfe didn't return to the immediate scene, and would later apologise to her fellow officers.

"Because I was the senior constable and I should've been setting an example, but ..."

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