Father who punched baby and rocked him on sofa guilty of manslaughter

Clarity Turu was only 5 months old when her father wrapped tape around his head and mouth, punched him in the face and twisted his arm until it broke.

The boy’s ordeal culminated in his father, Hamuera Rawhiti, grabbing him by the ankles, lifting him up and swinging him on the arm of a sofa.

Clarity died of a severe head injury which caused a massive brain hemorrhage. A postmortem examination later found evidence of 17 blows to the face and head.

Rawhiti initially lied to police, telling investigators the injuries were caused by her attempts at resuscitation. It wasn’t until 2 1/2 years later, during his trial in Auckland High Court, that Rawhiti admitted to beating Clarity.

* The father tells the court he swung the child by his ankles onto the sofa but had no intention of killing
* The father told the police of the injuries to the dead child caused by the resuscitation attempt
* The accused murderer got angry when the baby cried, says the mother
* Father told ambulance officer ‘it’s my fault’ after young son dies, court hears

“I couldn’t bear the crying,” she told the court.

Rawhiti admitted to causing the death of her son but said she had no idea her abuse could kill her baby.

Defense Attorney Julie-Anne Kincade, KC.  (Stock photo)
David White/Stuff

Defense Attorney Julie-Anne Kincade, KC. (Stock photo)

His attorney, Julie Anne Kincade, KC, reminded jurors in her closing remarks that they must determine what Rawhiti was thinking at the time “not what she should have thought, or could have thought or what you or I would have thought.”

The Crown said it was murder, which Rawhiti knew punching a child in the face and banging their head against a sofa could kill, but chose to do it anyway.

Crown Attorney Gareth Kayes.  (Stock photo)

Lawrence Smith/Things

Crown Attorney Gareth Kayes. (Stock photo)

In his closing speech, Crown Attorney Gareth Kayes summed it up like this: “You might think [that is] an extraordinary level of violence to use on a child… when he did it, he knew death could happen.”

On Thursday, jurors returned their not guilty verdicts to the murder charge. Judge Neil Campbell convicted him of manslaughter.

Clutching a bible, Rawhiti wiped tears from her eyes as the verdict was handed down. Later he could be heard cheering in the cells.

On the morning of October 22, 2020, Rawhiti was caring for Clarity alone in their Ōtara unit.

His then-partner, Clarity’s mother, had taken a bus to Hamilton to see her children from a past relationship.

Rawhiti said he woke up to his son crying. He confirmed that he “hurt” him but couldn’t remember exactly how he did.

He told the court he remembered twisting his son’s arm. “I remember the click.”

When asked how, he explained matter-of-factly, “Just bend the arm… I just broke it.”

He also remembered punching Clarity in the face. How many times? Again, he couldn’t be sure.

Rawhiti said she grabbed her son by the legs and swung him so that his head hit the sofa.

When asked what he hoped to accomplish, Rawhiti said, “I wanted him to stop crying.”

He described hearing his son take a deep breath, possibly his last, and run outside with the boy in his arms for air.

“I was shocked and confused by what I just did. I didn’t know what was on my mind at the time to do that.

Rawhiti knew that he had caused serious injuries to his son. Medical experts said the damage would be immediately apparent.

But instead of calling an ambulance, Rawhiti searched for YouTube videos, including one titled, “What to do if your baby isn’t breathing.”

“During that time,” Kayes said in his closing remarks, “I suggest that Clarity died in front of Mr. Rawhiti with Mr. Rawhiti doing little more than scouring YouTube for clips.”

An hour passed before Rawhiti went to the neighbors to borrow a telephone. Even then, Rawhiti asked to call Healthline instead of an ambulance.

“I was trying to find ways to help him without anyone knowing I’d hurt him,” Rawhiti told the court.

Rawhiti made enough admissions to the ambulance and firefighters at the scene for them to know the child had not died from an accident, but had been attacked.

Rawhiti said, “I did. I did the damage.

She subsequently repeatedly lied to the police, saying that Clarity was not breathing properly and that she caused the injuries by trying to revive the boy.

Among Rawhiti’s confessional comments to paramedics, he asked, “Will I go to prison for murder?”

Thursday’s jury verdict answered that question.


Rawhiti’s upbringing was abusive.

He told the court about an abusive stepfather who beat him and his sister.

At the age of 5 he was in state “care”. He estimated that he spent time in 20 foster homes before leaving at 17.

Thursday’s verdict means it has become part of a sad statistic.

Research by the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care shows that one in three children and one young person admitted to residential care went on to serve prison sentences.

That figure is even worse for Māori, with up to 42% incarcerated later in life.

Data is based on children who spent time on state care in the 1950s through 1999.

Survivors' advocate Keith Wiffin at the Royal Commission of Investigation into Abuse in Care.


Survivors’ advocate Keith Wiffin at the Royal Commission of Investigation into Abuse in Care.

Keith Wiffin is an advocate for abuse survivors in state and faith-based “care.” He says the case is a tragedy for Rawhiti and Turu whānau and while the commission’s investigation does not absolve Rawhiti of his responsibility for him, victims create victims.

“I’m in no way condoning what he did…but part of the reason it happened is that the person was a victim in his formative years and that shaped his behaviors.”

She said that while few abuse survivors go on to kill, many have spent time in prison, others have had relationship problems and substance abuse.

“How different would his life have been if he had been treated? I understand that people are absolutely outraged at the death of a child, and they should, but you have to try to understand how it happened to try and prevent it from happening in the future.

Rawhiti will be sentenced in July.

Father who punched baby and rocked him on sofa guilty of manslaughter

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