Focus on Police Competence
Three teenage girls who walked free from court yesterday after the conviction that sent them to prison last year was overturned will seek compensation, their lawyer says.
Teangarua Lucy Akatere, 17, Tania Mayze Vini, 17, and Krishla Priscilla Fuataha, 16, were jailed last year for what a judge described as a "sadistic" slashing.
The three had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal in Auckland yesterday after eight months in prison for aggravated robbery.
They were convicted on the evidence of a 13-year-old who police now say was unreliable. She has given several versions of the attack which left a 16-year-old schoolgirl cut and bruised.
The schoolgirl was attacked near the Three Kings Mall in Auckland in August 1999. She was repeatedly slashed with a pair of scissors, kicked and thumped and robbed of $10.
After Justices Robertson, Gault and Salmon overturned the conviction, which was not opposed by police, the girls' lawyer, Gary Gotlieb, said they would seek compensation.
They did not commit the crime and were wrongfully convicted, Mr Gotlieb said. Ms Fuataha was sentenced to two years' jail, the other two to 18 months.
Police had tunnel vision and it was often the case that police believed they had the offender and then found the facts to fit the crime, he said. The issue of compensation had yet to be decided but it would be sought and the girls would be offered victim support. "We are not even going to think about it for some time. We are just going to get these girls sorted out, that is the main thing."
Despite the "terrible injustice" that had been done, yesterday's ruling had shown the system could right itself, Mr Gotlieb said.
Justice Gault said: "The investigation and trial system failed in this case."
The court said the wrong conviction raised questions about the conduct of the police, which must be investigated. "Three young persons have been let down by the system."
Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery told the Court of Appeal the convictions were unsafe and a retrial would not be sought. The court was told that after the original trial an affidavit was produced by a principal witness retracting the original evidence.
Facts were also produced proving the three girls were not near the scene of the attack. Much of the new evidence was not fresh and could have been obtained with reasonable diligence before the trial, the judges said.
"They (the girls) have been subjected to the demeaning experience of a public trial and the constant rejection of their protestations of innocence," Justice Gault said. "We offer our sympathy to them."
Outside the court the girls said the ruling was "sensational".
Ms Vini said: "I am happy it is over now after so long." Ms Fuataha said: "Spending time in jail hurt."
The girls said it was disgusting that an alleged co-offender lied at the original trial. "I don't know how they could do that for $10," Ms Vini said.
An internal police inquiry has found that the evidence that led to the wrongful conviction and jailing of the girls was unsafe and unreliable.
However, police have yet to decide if it was a police error that led to the three girls spending time in prison on the evidence from a 13-year-old.
The 13-year-old was too young to be charged but has been dealt with under the provisions of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act.
Detective Senior Sergeant Stu Allsopp-Smith, who was in charge of the investigation, said yesterday that though his inquiry was incomplete, he was satisfied the evidence of the 13-year-old was unreliable.
She had admitted that her evidence at the trial and an earlier depositions hearing was false, he said. -- NZPA
CAPTION: NZ Herald - Wrongly convicted teenagers, from left, Ms Fuataha, Ms Vini and Ms Akatere, leave the court with their lawyer Mr Gotleib