Two Mongrel Mob gang members on trial for the murder of a Tāneatua man allegedly tried to buy drugs from him without paying, minutes before he was fatally assaulted.
Meihana Mason died in Waikato Hospital on February 15 last year, a day after he was left bloodied and beaten in his home in the tiny Eastern Bay of Plenty town.
Isiah Natana and Te Whiu Apanui are jointly charged with the 57-year-old’s murder.
Natana is also charged with two counts of injuring with intent to injure a second man in his 60s. Together with Shane Toman, all three are charged with aggravated robbery after they allegedly took a third man’s motorbike.
A jury trial for the three defendants began today in the High Court at Hamilton before Justice Rebecca Ellis.
Crown prosecutor Caitlin Bourke told the jury the assault on Mason in his cabin on Cobham St was the first of three “violent acts” by one or more of the defendants in Tāneatua that Valentine’s Day.
In the Crown’s opening submissions, she said the three gang associates pulled up outside Mason’s home for the second time about 2pm in a white Mazda with two other Mob members.
Apanui had gained his patch only the day before and they had been celebrating all night, drinking into the morning.
Bourke said witnesses would give evidence that Natana and Apanui got out of the car and went into Mason’s cabin intending to get drugs.
“They were not successful because they did not have any money.”
Bourke said Mason was known not to sell his drugs “on tick” or “IOU”.
“For whatever reason, their interaction has turned violent and Mr Mason was assaulted by one or both Mr Natana and Mr Apanui.”
Mason suffered a brain bleed and, though he was able to walk and talk immediately after the assault, he deteriorated in hospital and died after his life support was switched off the next day.
“John Meihana Mason died from complications from blunt-force injuries to the head caused by multiple blows,” Bourke told the jury.
She alleged he was hit with full force and said he suffered scrapes, bruises to the forehead and eye, facial and internal bleeding, fractures on either side of his nose and to the jaw, and the “significant” brain bleed that ultimately led to his death.
Neighbours who rushed to Mason’s aid after the commotion found him in a pool of blood.
Bourke told the jury the Crown did not know exactly why Mason was assaulted or who delivered the fatal blows, which was why both men were charged with murder.
She said spots of Mason’s blood were found on Natana’s shoes and discarded sweatpants owned by Apanui.
Shortly after the incident in Cobham St, the Crown alleges a man in his 60s eating a pie outside the Bakehouse Cafe was twice assaulted by Natana.
Bourke said the first alleged assault took place after Natana asked the man for a light.
The man, who is a witness for the Crown, said he didn’t have one and gave Natana $4.
But Bourke said Natana returned soon after and asked the man if he wanted to buy a tinny (drugs).
When he declined, Natana allegedly punched him, knocking him off his seat and on to the ground.
Natana then went next door to the Gull service station, where the man approached him and asked why he would punch an older, innocent man.
The man returned to the Bakehouse Cafe, bought himself another pie and was eating it when Natana allegedly returned to assault him again.
Bourke said the victim suffered a black eye, a tender lump above his jaw, bruising and cuts.
The final charge of aggravated robbery involved a man who claimed he was abused by Natana as he filled his motorbike with petrol at the Gull.
Soon after, on a nearby street, the man slowed his bike for Natana, Apanui and Toman when he thought they were crossing the road.
Bourke told the jury the trio instead approached the man and Natana said: “Give me your f…ing bike.”
The man refused and Bourke alleged Toman, who knew the man, king-hit him, knocking him off the bike and breaking his nose.
The damaged bike was later recovered at Natana’s home.
Caitlin Gentleman, for Natana, said it was not his idea to assault the motorbike rider, who was a relative, and he took the bike only for safekeeping.
She said Natana was not the person who assaulted the man eating the pie and, although he admitted being in Mason’s cabin, he did not assault him.
Gentleman told the jury that Apanui was the attacker. Natana did not help and did not know there would be an assault.
Rebekah Webby, for Apanui, said her client did not go into Mason’s cabin because, as a newly patched and junior member of the Mongrel Mob, his directions were to look for a motorbike outside.
She said Apanui was being scapegoated by more senior members of the Mob.
Toman’s lawyer, Rosalind Brown, pointed out her client was not charged with murder or assault and said the evidence would show a very different story to the one the Crown had outlined.
The trial is expected to last three weeks with evidence set to begin tomorrow.
Natalie Akoorie is the Open Justice deputy editor, based in Waikato and covering crime and justice nationally. Natalie first joined the Herald in 2011 and has been a journalist in New Zealand and overseas for 27 years, recently covering health, social issues, local government and the regions.