Michael Laws writes:
SO NOW we know. The price of a life in a court of law – two years and 10 months. And now we know something else: why parliament passed the three strikes legislation over the objections of jurists, lawyers and justice officials.
It is a deliberate decision to remove judicial discretion when it comes to repeat serious violent and sexual offenders.
Schoolteacher Hawea Vercoe met his killer just seconds before his death. Isaiah Johnson Richard Tai. A 21-year-old orchard worker from Opotiki who had never achieved anything in his brief life and who was the contrast of his victim – also Maori, a school principal, a father and a local body politician.
They had both been out clubbing, they met, argued and then Tai king-hit Vercoe. As the teacher lay on the ground, a witness reported seeing him line up Vercoe’s head like a goalkicker and deliver the fatal blow.
Tai denied the kick until CCTV evidence was produced. Only then did he change his story and change his plea. He gambled on confessing to manslaughter, and his gamble paid off handsomely.
He is likely to be walking the streets of Whakatane, on parole, by next Christmas.
What I ma interested in, is how many other convictions Tai had. The judge referred to a history of violence, which suggests there have been some.
The facts suggest that murder was the appropriate verdict. And that life was the appropriate sentence. Tai’s decision to kick the helpless Vercoe in the head took this case way beyond the accidental killing category. It was an act of wanton thuggery.
I think a case could have been made for murder. Not for the punch. But a massive kick to the head is very able to kill – and did.