Murder accused mum loses battle over cremation after girl's sudden death

Author
Amy Wiggins, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 1 Oct 2020, 4:40PM
Maria Witehira, a 16-year-old Morrinsville College student, died suddenly on August 23 in a suspected suicide. Photo / Supplied
Maria Witehira, a 16-year-old Morrinsville College student, died suddenly on August 23 in a suspected suicide. Photo / Supplied

Murder accused mum loses battle over cremation after girl's sudden death

Author
Amy Wiggins, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 1 Oct 2020, 4:40PM

A woman who is accused of murder will get to keep a lock of her daughter's hair after she sparked a legal battle between the family about how the teenager's body should be dealt with.

Sixteen-year-old Tura-Maria Witehira, known as Maria, died suddenly in Morrinsville on August 23.

The Herald reported today that she was found dead on the grounds of Morrinsville College.

The death sparked pleas from the school, police and her family for students to stop spreading rumours and speculation on social media which have led to a teenage boy being blamed for the tragedy and in turn facing abuse and threats.

Her mother, Freda Ellen Witehira, is accused of murdering Colin Adrian Anderson in Ōtāhuhu in August last year and is in prison awaiting trial next month.

A just-released court decision says Maria had been in the primary care of her paternal grandmother Lynne Ram since she was 18 months old and had very little contact with either her mother or her father, who lives in Germany.

The stoush began when Witehira, who wanted her daughter buried in Kaikohe in keeping with the tikanga of her iwi, applied for an interim injunction to stop the cremation of her body.

Ram and her family agreed to allow Witehira a two-hour window at the funeral home to farewell her daughter.

The teleconference resumed five days after the initial hearing and the court was told Witehira no longer opposed cremation but wanted her ashes divided so part of her could be buried in Kaikohe.

The Ram family said dividing Maria's ashes was offensive and contrary to her wishes but offered to instead give Witehira a lock of her hair, a photo album of her life and a video recording of her funeral service. Witehira was not able to attend the service as she was in custody.

At the conclusion of the teleconference Justice Venning ruled that Maria should be cremated and dealt with according to her wishes and the wishes of the Ram family, who had care of the teenager for more than 14 years.

"While [Witehira] says she would like Tura-Maria to be buried according to the tikanga of her iwi/hapū, she gives no evidence of her connection with her iwi/hapū or heritage," the judgment said.

"Freda had no or little contact with and no relationship with Tura-Maria since she and Tura-Maria's father left her with Lynne as an infant. Also, Freda faces the serious charge of murder and is for trial in November this year. Her custodial situation makes it difficult for her to act practically in person."

Justice Venning did order the Ram family to uphold their offer of providing Witehira with a lock of hair, photo album and video of the funeral service.

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