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Hawke's Bay killer's appeal dismissed

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 26/07/2016

A man who brutally beat a mentally impaired Hastings man to death after keeping him as a virtual prisoner has had an appeal against his conviction dismissed.

In 2014, Steven Rakuraku was sentenced to at least 17 years in jail on 10 charges, including the murder of his 50-year-old flatmate Johnny Wright in 2011.

He defended himself at trial, where he also faced two counts of kidnapping, grievous bodily harm, attempting to pervert the course of justice and assaulting his partner, Lillian Hilton.

Rakuraku befriended several vulnerable people, including Mr Wright, and bullied them into providing accommodation and money, often by repeatedly assaulting them, the Crown said at trial.

Rakuraku filed appeals on his various convictions and sentence in 2014, and continued to represent himself throughout the appeals process.

He said he would not have pleaded guilty to some of the charges if he had been aware the Crown would use his convictions to seek a longer prison sentence on his charges against Mr Wright.

He also claimed he had been forced to represent himself at the murder trial without sufficient legal education, because he'd had a lawyer who was inadequate and would not follow instructions.

A judge gave Rakuraku until February 2016 to comply with his directions on how to proceed with his appeals.

Rakuraku delayed the process by several months, claiming he wanted legal aid to assist him, but a court check revealed he had not applied for it.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal said Rakuraku had been given at least 18 months to appeal his charges.

"There has been a complete failure by the appellant to comply with the court's directions given since December 2015, with no satisfactory explanation by the appellant.

The court also found Rakuraku had a fair chance to represent himself at his murder trial.

It dismissed his appeals as a case of "serious and repeated breaches of the court's directions".

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