Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

Hefty sentence for father who beat baby to death, but identity still kept secret

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Apr 2024, 1:20pm
A man with ongoing name suppression has been handed a life sentence with a minimum term of imprisonment of 17 years for the May 2022 murder of his baby daughter. Her name also cannot be revealed. Photo / NZME
A man with ongoing name suppression has been handed a life sentence with a minimum term of imprisonment of 17 years for the May 2022 murder of his baby daughter. Her name also cannot be revealed. Photo / NZME

Hefty sentence for father who beat baby to death, but identity still kept secret

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Apr 2024, 1:20pm

An Auckland man who beat his baby daughter to death - later admitting to police he turned his aggression on the 8-month-old because she looked as if she was afraid of him - has been ordered to serve at least 17 years of a life sentence before he can apply for parole.  

But the 26-year-old Manurewa resident cannot yet be named due to a last-minute legal manoeuvre by his lawyers. The decision means the victim’s identity must also continue to be kept secret, nearly two years after her death.  

Jurors in the High Court at Auckland found the defendant guilty of murder in March after watching a police interview in which the man admitted through a translator: “I’ve sinned. I murdered my daughter.” His lawyers had argued he didn’t know the proper legal definition of murder and that he was instead guilty of manslaughter. 

During today’s sentencing hearing, the Crown and the defence agreed that a section of the sentencing law had been triggered that calls for a minimum non-parole period of at least 17 years for especially egregious murders. 

“She was particularly vulnerable,” Justice Laura O’Gorman said as she listed her reasons for ordering the minimum term of imprisonment. “The victim was assaulted with a high degree of callous indifference.”  

That indifference was amplified by the defendant’s unwillingness to get his daughter medical attention as he watched her condition deteriorate in the days before her death, the judge said, adding that his rehabilitation is likely to be hindered unless he is “more realistic” in acknowledging the extent of what he had done.  

“You do not express any remorse or regret for your actions other than feeling sorry for yourself and your family,” she said.  

The defendant’s daughter died on May 23, 2022, shortly after her mother took her to Watford Medical Centre in Ōtara, South Auckland.  

The defendant denied hurting his daughter while speaking to police on the night of her death. But in an hours-long follow-up police interview a week later, he admitted to slapping his daughter’s legs and hands out of anger because she had cried when he went in the room where she was sleeping. The two had never bonded and she acted cold towards him, he explained.  

As the interview progressed, he admitted to pushing the baby’s stomach then eventually – after police showed him an autopsy photo of his daughter and read aloud her long list of injuries – admitted to punching his daughter four times with an estimated force of seven out of 10. 

A demonstration of the blows appeared to show enough force to easily hurt an adult, with him putting his back into the pantomimed strikes. 

The final blow, as he braced the infant’s head with one hand and punched with the other, perforated the child’s bowel. Left untreated, with only the defendant aware of what had occurred, the internal injury became fatal over the course of several days. 

Defence lawyer Mark Williams described the child’s death during the trial as “tragic, unforgivable and unnecessary”. But his client never anticipated the blows could be fatal and so shouldn’t be found guilty of murder, he argued. Prosecutor Chis Howard said the defendant, even if he didn’t mean to kill the child, was guilty of murder because he knowingly gambled with her life by administering such a severe beating. 

During today’s hearing, Howard quoted a pre-sentence evaluation of the defendant that found him to have “self-entitlement”, a lack of insight, “a very significant propensity for violence” and a “lack of any moral compass or concern for his vulnerable daughter”. 

The defence said the evaluation wasn’t entirely correct. 

“He is, of course, remorseful for what has occurred,” Williams said. “He didn’t actively show remorse because that’s the way he deals with things. He may sit there not looking remorseful, but he’s indicated to me he is and he’s sorry for the death of his child. 

“...He’s going to have to live with this for the rest of his life.” 

In an unusual move for someone found guilty of murder, Williams asked the judge today that his client receive permanent name suppression.  

The defendant’s name - and, as a result, his daughter’s name - had been initially suppressed until the verdict due to an earlier finding of extreme hardship for the defendant’s overseas parents, who told the court in 2022 that they feared they would be banished from their small Pacific village and possibly have their house burnt down if neighbours found out about the charges.  

Immediately after that suppression order lapsed with last month’s verdict, Justice O’Gorman allowed a new temporary suppression order based on an unrelated issue: to protect the defendant’s fair trial rights in Manukau District Court, where he was awaiting domestic violence charges. In light of the much more serious murder conviction, however, prosecutors opted two weeks ago to withdraw the district court allegations. 

That should have allowed the defendant to be named today, but his lawyers filed a new suppression request yesterday based entirely on the original application: the alleged continuing extreme hardship for his overseas parents. 

“The criminal justice system shouldn’t be held for ransom in this way,” Howard argued for the Crown, pointing out there was no new evidence to consider and suggesting that the judge allow the defendant to be named immediately as originally planned. 

He noted that in the original “extreme hardship” suppression decision, the judge who authored it acknowledged it was almost inconceivable that the murder charge wouldn’t be known in the overseas village before the trial via means other than the media. 

The public interest in knowing the name of the defendant and the victim only increases post-conviction, he added. 

“It is unsatisfactory not to have the media free to cover sentencing in an open justice way,” Howard said, explaining that being able to name the victim “helps the issue resonate”. When allowed to be fully reported, “cases like this do effect change”, he argued. 

Justice O’Gorman agreed and immediately denied the ongoing suppression request. But the swift decision also came with an apology: The law allows the defence 20 working days to decide if they will appeal the decision, at which time the suppression must stand. If the matter is taken up with the Court of Appeal, suppression will remain in place until the matter is decided. 

“I know how frustrating that must be,” she said, adding that she felt statutorily required to make the order. 

The defendant’s partner sat in the courtroom for today’s hearing. She declined to read aloud a victim impact statement but submitted one to the judge. Referring to the statement, the judge said it “reveals profound grief for the loss of a much-loved daughter” but also forgiveness. 

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand. 

This article was originally posted on the NZ Herald here. 

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you