An Auckland father punched his baby daughter repeatedly in the stomach then failed to take her to the doctor for several days as her injuries slowly claimed her life, the Crown claims.
He later admitted to police was responsible for the infant’s injuries, telling an officer “I’ve sinned”.
But his lawyers say while his actions were tragic and unreasonable, he did not have murderous intent and should not be found guilty of murder.
The young man with name suppression is on trial in the Auckland High Court before Justice Laura O’Gorman and a jury, charged with murdering the 8-month old girl in May 2022 and assaulting his son, aged 2.
He denies these charges and has also pleaded not guilty to a third charge of assaulting the girl before she died. English is not his first language and he is assisted by interpreters in court.
His lawyer Alex Cranstoun said in the defence’s opening statement her client had done something unforgiveable.
“He lost his patience with his 8-month-old daughter ... and punched her in the stomach about four times,” Cranstoun said.
While his actions were unnecessary and tragic, he never imagined they would result in his daughter’s death, she said.
Cranstoun, representing the man alongside Mark Williams, told the jury they would not be asking them to forgive the man or absolve him of his actions.
“But what we say is he is not guilty of murder.”
She said he did not cause the injuries to his son or daughter giving rise to the assault charges.
Cranstoun told the jury the defence would be asking them to look closely at who else in the household could have been responsible for those injuries.
Crown prosecutor Christopher Howard said in his opening address that the man’s attack on the girl on the night of Friday, May 20 at their Flat Bush home was not the first time he had been violent towards his children.
The man's trial at the Auckland High Court is scheduled to last four weeks. Photo / Nick Reed
That evening, he went to check on the girl who was asleep in her bedroom. When he entered she looked up and started crying.
This enraged the defendant, who had not yet bonded with his daughter in the way he had hoped, Howard said.
He smacked her legs with what he would later tell police was a 5/10 level of force, the prosecutor said. The father then held her up and punched her four times with a higher level of force, Howard said.
Because of the way he was holding her up, the girl’s body could not bounce back and absorb the force, he said. Howard said the man later told police he thought giving her a “hiding” would end his anger.
His punches ruptured her bowel and led to peritonitis, with the release of toxic chemicals from the perforation causing her condition to slowly worsen over the next few days.
Howard said the Crown would call witnesses would would attest the girl was having trouble breathing that Friday night and marks were already beginning to appear on her face.
Over the course of the weekend she became lethargic and started vomiting as further bruises developed.
Still, her parents did not take her to the doctor, the prosecutor said.
Despite the gravity of her internal injuries, she might have survived if she was taken to hospital for life-saving surgery earlier, Howard said.
On Monday afternoon, more than two days after the assault, her mother took her to a traditional healer, who gave the baby a massage but avoided her stomach, noticing the bruises.
Later on Monday night, the girl’s mother took her to a medical centre in Ōtara. By that stage her bruise-covered body was lifeless.
“By that stage it was far too late,” Howard said.
Staff performed CPR but she could not be revived.
The defendant provided a formal written statement to police on the night of her death acknowledging he and his partner had been told to take their daughter to the doctors, but he said he thought she was not sick enough.
In an interview with police about a week later, he admitted giving the girl a “hiding” because she was crying, and said she did not seem attached to him, Howard said.
During a break in the interview he began to open up more about the extent of the assault, so the officer re-started the tape.
He then admitted he was responsible for his daughter’s death, Howard said.
The trial continues.
George Block is an Auckland-based reporter with a focus on police, the courts, prisons and defence. He joined the Herald in 2022 and has previously worked at Stuff in Auckland and the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin.
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