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'Absolute tragedy': Man who beat partner to death acquitted of murder

Belinda Feek,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Mar 2024, 1:56PM
Richard Matthew Coburn has been found guilty of manslaughter in relation to the death of Paige Tutemahurangi (inset) in July last year. Photo / Belinda Feek
Richard Matthew Coburn has been found guilty of manslaughter in relation to the death of Paige Tutemahurangi (inset) in July last year. Photo / Belinda Feek

'Absolute tragedy': Man who beat partner to death acquitted of murder

Belinda Feek,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Mar 2024, 1:56PM

WARNING: This story contains details of domestic abuse

A man who beat his partner to death then cleaned the blood off her, changed her clothes, hugged and apologised to her before calling 111, has been cleared of her murder and instead found guilty of manslaughter.

Richard Mathew Coburn, 26, has been on trial in the High Court at Hamilton this week fighting a murder charge after killing his partner, Paige Tutemahurangi, in their Kahikatea Drive home on July 1 last year.

While Coburn admitted killing his partner, his counsel Roger Laybourn submitted Coburn was guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder, as he didn’t know his punches would result in her death.

The jury, of seven men and five women, returned with their verdicts at 12.30pm today.

Several of Tutemahurangi’s whānau were in court to hear the outcome after having sat through much of the trial evidence this week.

Justice Mary Peters convicted Coburn of manslaughter and remanded him into custody for sentencing in June.

She also addressed Tutemahurangi’s whānau telling them the case was an “absolute tragedy”.

“It’s terrible that somebody as young as Paige should have died in this way and tragic for the little [son], so don’t think for a moment that any of us are oblivious to the tragedy that it’s been,” she said.

Justice Peters sent the jury out to start their deliberations around 2.45pm yesterday, telling them their main issue to decide was either whether Coburn intended to kill Tutemahurangi, or whether he knew his actions would cause her death and continued assaulting her anyway.

If they weren’t sure beyond reasonable doubt, they should find him not guilty of murder - but guilty of manslaughter, she advised the jurors.

In his closing submissions, Laybourn said his client did not have murderous intent that night.

The couple had exchanged loving messages just before he returned home after having six or seven beers with his brother, Robert.

However, Laybourn conceded his client intended to cause Tutemahurangi bodily injury that night, “of course he did”, he said.

The contentious point was that Coburn did not know that his punches would likely cause her death or that he carried on regardless.

“Why would he immediately do everything to try and keep her alive?

“You have heard his voice, his anguish, his distress ... to get emergency services there as soon as possible.”

Coburn had hit her before but there had never been this result, he told the jury.

“Look at the nature of the assault – it’s his fist.

“This is a man, to his discredit, who has punched his partner to the head several times in the past and there has not been [this] consequence.

“It may have caused him to underestimate his actions.

“Coburn then fell into an immediate state of shock at what he’s done.

“His shock at her physical state. She can’t stand up, she’s wobbly.

Paige Tutemahurangi was killed at the hands of her partner, Richard Coburn. Photo / LinkedIn.
Paige Tutemahurangi was killed at the hands of her partner, Richard Coburn. Photo / LinkedIn.

“He was immediately regretful, he apologised, put on clean clothing, and put her on the bed.

“The only common sense conclusion you can come to is that he is trying to keep her alive.”

He instead urged the jury to return a verdict of manslaughter.

‘In an angry frame of mind’

Crown solicitor Rebecca Mann said in her closings it was not only avoidable that Tutemahurangi lost her life that day, but Coburn being on trial was also avoidable.

“Ms Tutemahurangi died and Mr Coburn is here because of a choice he made, actions he took, deliberate actions, actions with consequences.

“When Richard Coburn struck her repeatedly to the head with his fists and caused her death ... he did so with murderous intent.”

While Coburn told police he hit her “three or four times”, a pathologist testified that he’d found five “impact sites” on Tutemahurangi’s head and he couldn’t tell if one area was hit more than once.

He either did it intentionally or at least to cause Tutemahurangi bodily injury in circumstances where he knew his actions could cause her death and he went ahead anyway, Mann said.

It was unclear how long he waited to call 111 but Mann reminded the jury that St John Ambulance staff noted the blood that remained on Tutemahurangi, after he’d “cleaned” her, had dried.

Before calling 111, Coburn apologised to her, cleaned her, changed her out of her bloodied clothes and into an “Oodie”, a one-piece dressing gown, called a friend on Facebook – who didn’t answer – and then waited a further five minutes before calling emergency services.

However, after calling 111 the first time, at 8.37pm, the line disconnected after three seconds.

He called again, but it immediately disconnected, before he called again about 20 seconds later at 8.38pm.

Mann said it was obvious now that Coburn regretted his actions that night, but “regret after the fact and murderous intent at the time” was different.

“At the material time when Mr Coburn was inflicting those blows ... in an angry frame of mind, as he said he was, after Ms Tutemahurangi’s words ‘get your sh*t and leave’ effectively, at the very least he intended to cause her bodily injury and he knew that there was a real risk ... that it could kill her and he went ahead anyway.

“He struck her and continued to strike her and by doing that he killed her.”

Mann also asked the jury to take into account the previous incidents of violence involving the couple, for which Coburn had two convictions, along with statements from family who had witnessed Tutemahurangi with black or red eyes before the fatal attack.


How to get help: If you're in danger now: • Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people. Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you. Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.

Where to go for help or more information:

Women's Refuge: Crisis line - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 (available 24/7)
Shine: Helpline - 0508 744 633 (available 24/7)
It's Not Ok: Family violence information line - 0800 456 450
Shakti: Specialist services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children.
• Crisis line - 0800 742 584 (available 24/7)
Ministry of Justice: For information on family violence
Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services
White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women.

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Belinda Feek is an Open Justice reporter based in Waikato. She has worked at NZME for nine years and has been a journalist for 20.

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