Christchurch man who took illicit drugs, bashed elderly woman escapes conviction after automatism defence accepted

A Christchurch man who brutally beat an elderly service station worker after taking illicit drugs has been granted a discharge without conviction and permanent name suppression after the court accepted his defence of automatism.

And his victim and her family support that decision – after a lengthy and emotional Restorative Justice process.

Maia Tirikatene, 68, was working a night shift at the BP station on Edgeware Rd in May when she was viciously attacked by the 20-year-old.

Tirikatene sustained bruising all over her face and body in the violent beating, which was captured on CCTV camera and only stopped when a customer intervened.

The man was charged with assaulting and injuring Tirikatene with intent to injure, common assault, assaulting police, wilful damage, theft and reckless driving.

In November he pleaded guilty to all charges.

At the time the court heard that the man had taken a “widely available” illicit drug and was suffering from automatism when the attack happened.

Automatism is a full legal defence and refers to an individual acting “either unconsciously or by reflex or spasm”.

“They could do things and have no conscious recollection of doing it when they come out of that state,” said the man’s lawyer Kerry Cook.

Several psychological experts provided reports to the court supporting the defence.

After reviewing the information Judge David Saunders indicated he would grant a discharge without conviction if the man engaged with the Tirikatene family through the Restorative Justice process and paid his victim reparation.

On that basis the man pleaded guilty to all of the charges.

Cook said if the case went to trial the most likely scenario was that he would be acquitted and he would walk free with absolutely no recourse.

But the man wanted to take responsibility for his actions “from day one”.

He “acknowledged and accepted” that his actions – while “involuntary” and “out of character” had caused “significant harm”.

“There is nothing we can do that will assuage the harm caused… but rather than seeing this go to trial… he has insisted from day one that (his victim) sees some moral responsibility in relation to his conduct.”

Restorative Justice process heals victim, offender families

The Restorative Justice meeting between the two parties took place recently at a North Canterbury marae.

Today the man was back in court for finalisation of his sentence and Judge Saunders granted the discharge without conviction as promised.

And he granted the man’s application for permanent name suppression.

Tirikatene spoke in court about her experience.

She opposed the man’s name suppression but said the Restorative Justice process was “great”.

“Restorative Justice went really well, I thought, on both sides,” she said.

“I just wanted to say how great it was that we came to be able to talk and let our voices be heard – that was the main, important thing.”

She was emotional while speaking, and urged others to take part in the process if possible.

“It brings peace to everybody, our voices were heard to each other,” she said.

Tirikatene said she wanted the man named publicly for “closure, for justice”.

She felt it was a natural consequence and would help make him accountable.

“It would give me complete closure … I’m not saying spread his name out there or anything like that, I’m not for the name suppression.”

She told the court the attack continued to have a deep impact on her.

She has anxiety and did not want to be alone.

“I have to have family with me whenever I go out, I can’t socialise or anything,” she said.

Permanent name suppression sought

Cook acknowledged the “benevolence” of the victim’s family, especially around the Restorative Justice process.

He said that allowed her to be empowered and to see the offender was not a “lunatic”.

It allowed him and his family to show that his offending “is not us”.

“It has enabled him to make good the harm he has done.

Cook said his client and his family were “moved” at the meeting – especially around the financial impact the attack had on Tirikatene.

She was unable to continue in a job that she loved – and where she was much loved.

Cook said a discharge without conviction was appropriate for the offender and permanent name suppression was “linked inextricably” to it.

He said naming the man could be “very harmful” to him.

“This individual has felt consequences… suppression is justified,” he said.

Reparation would be paid in full to the Tirikatene by her attacker, not drip-fed through the Ministry of Justice.

Attacker speaks: I am so sorry

The attacker also spoke in court.

“I’m sorry,” he started.

“At the Restorative Justice meeting I learned that I when I harmed you, I harmed your whole family.

“I apologise to all of you.

“I am so grateful that you all gave me the opportunity to meet and apologise and I thank you all for your compassion and kindness.

“I’m sorry this has been such a long, drawn-out process – it’s been almost 10 months, I’m sorry …I obviously didn’t want any of this, I’m sorry, I’m sorry about everything.”

Judge Saunders said the man turned his life around since the attack.

“What you’ve said is that’s not really you … you acted badly, you’ve done your best to try and show people that you can turn your life around,” he said.

“You’ve done community service, you’ve taken the counselling… you can put this behind you and become a law-abiding citizen.”

He said if the man had gone to trial and been acquitted his victims would have felt “embittered” and like there was no justice.

“Justice is a two-way street, it sometimes requires both parties to be on the same page in order for things to happen,” he said.

“Credit to you that you were prepared to face them in that Restorative Justice meeting and provide through family assistance a very generous compensation to try and write the wrong that you’ve created.”

He said everything he had read about the man’s actions since the attack assured him a discharge without conviction was appropriate.

Judge Saunders ordered the man to pay $500 to a police officer he assaulted during his arrest, $500 to another man he injured when he threw an object during the incident and $500 to a taxi driver whose car was damaged.

He will also pay $7000 to Tirikatene.

“I want no one in this court to leave thinking you have bought your way out of a conviction,” said Judge Saunders.

The money will all be paid today, in full.

Why attacker won't be named

He agreed to grant the application for permanent name suppression.

He said while the NZ Herald may report the matters around the case fairly, accurately and with context – social media was problematic.

“People outside the media … can act in irrational ways and don’t want to look at the full facts or read the full story,” he said.

The man had received “vile” threats and comments after he first appeared in court.

“This is not hiding the facts … but I am of the view but the inability of the court to control social media … I should take the view that you will suffer far greater penalty on social media … than what you would if the facts were published in the mainstream media.”

Outside court the man handed his victim two cheques and gave her a hug.

The pair then stood and talked for some time.

Members of both families also embraced and chatted, clearly relieved the case was over.

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