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Teens found guilty of motel murder

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 26/04/2016
Leonard Nattrass-Berquist, left, and Beauen Wallace-Loretz. © Supplied Leonard Nattrass-Berquist, left, and Beauen Wallace-Loretz.

Two teenagers have been found guilty of murdering an Auckland man at an Epsom motel in late 2014.

The jury had retired on Thursday and reached unanimous verdicts after deliberating for just over 10 hours.

Wallace-Loretz swore as the the verdicts were read out, and a woman in the public gallery sobbed.

The pair were 17 when Ihaia Gillman-Harris, 54, was attacked at the Ascot Epsom Motel, two days after Christmas in 2014. He later died in hospital.

During the trial, Crown and defence lawyers set out opposing scenarios.

Crown lawyers said Mr Gillman-Harris was expecting consensual sexual activity, and that he was attacked with overwhelming force by the teenagers who had brought a bat of some kind for an assault. But the defence argued Wallace-Loretz acted to protect his best friend from a sexual assault by Mr Gillman-Harris.

What happened to Mr Gillman-Harris during the time he was in the motel room with the young men is not clear, and maybe never will be. Crown lawyers said there were at least four, probably five, impacts to his head that cracked his skull.

Crown's argument

According to prosecutors, the teenagers spent just 13 minutes inside the Epsom Ascot Motel room with Mr Gillman-Harris.

"I'm going to ask you simply to put to one side any views you might have as to whether it was morally appropriate for a middle-aged man to seek the company of younger people of whatever gender in the way that he did," prosecutor David Johnstone said.

Mr Johnstone told the jury that Mr Gillman-Harris did not physically assault anyone, and therefore there was nothing to justify "such overwhelming force" used by the teenagers.

"There is the proposition that these two young defendants just happen to have done exactly what they appear to have planned. "In short it's not a coincidence that Mr Gillman-Harris was beaten and robbed, it's what these two planned to do," Mr Johnstone said.

He outlined text messages sent between the two.

  • Nattrass-Bergquist: "G, should we roll him?"
  • Wallace-Loretz: "How bad you want?"
  • Nattrass-Bergquist: "Hard out."
  • Wallace-Loretz: "Want it to be hospital?"
  • Nattrass-Bergquist: "Yeah, G. All day."

Defence case

The defence case was that Wallace-Loretz had come to the rescue of his friend who, the lawyers told the court, was being sexually assaulted.

"Ihaia Gillman-Harris was committing a sexual assault, and that is what Beauen Wallace-Loretz, my client, saw when he came out of the bathroom," defence lawyer Mr Kovacevich told jurors in the trial's final stages.

Mr Kovacevich said it was a "strange and twisted" sight for Mr Wallace-Loretz: a man who weighed 118kg, on top of his best friend, who in turn was almost blacking out.

He said Wallace-Loretz, who weighed less than 61kg, grabbed the first thing he could - a full bottle of spirits that Mr Gillman-Harris himself had purchased to get the teenagers drunk.

He then hit the man, his lawyers said, to stop the assault on his mate - the jury was told it was a split-second decision made in panic and in haste.

"Beauen Wallace-Loretz came to the rescue of his best friend as he is lawfully entitled to do. What else was he going to do, watch his best friend get sexually violated?" Mr Kovacevich asked jurors.

Two teenagers entering motel on CCTV footageA CCTV image of the teenagers outside the motel. Photo: Supplied
Defence lawyers did not call the teenagers young men - they told the jury they were boys who thought differently to anyone older, and that jurors should look at what happened from their perspective.

Another lawyer, Murray Gibson, painted Mr Gillman-Harris as a man who appeared to be attracted to the vulnerable - a man who cruised the streets armed with alcohol and cigarettes to find friendship.

'Tragic case' 

Ihaia Gillman-Harris © Radio New Zealand/NZ Police / Supplied Ihaia Gillman-Harris

In his summing up of the trial last week, Justice Toogood said there appeared to be no doubt that Mr Gillman-Harris had what he labelled an unhealthy interest in young men that society strongly disapproved of.

But he said the man was someone's son and much-loved brother, and a man who died a terrible death from serious and traumatic injuries.

The judge said the evidence was also clear that the two teenagers were leading the lives of much older people, lives filled with drinking alcohol and being out all night. "It would be wrong, as I'm sure you know, to allow strong disapproval of the lifestyle of any of the three major players in this case to intrude on your considerations," Justice Toogood cautioned jurors.

"This is a tragic case in many respects - what happened in that motel room will already have had a profound and everlasting effect on three families… life will never be the same as it was on Christmas Day that year in 2014," he said.

During the trial, Leonard Nattrass-Bergquist, who turns 19 today, paid close attention to what was being said about him and others in court. Beauen Wallace-Loretz mostly kept his head bowed and looked toward the floor.

Outside court, after today's verdict, Mr Gillman-Harris's elder brother, Mo Harris, told media that justice had been done.

He said the four-week trial had taken a huge toll on him and his family.

The judge remanded Nattrass-Bergquist and Wallace-Loretz in custody to reappear on 24 May.

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