Convicted murderer Robert Hohua believes his life could’ve been different, had it not been for his upbringing.
The 36-year-old Opotiki man will serve at least 17 years of a life sentence in prison for the murder of Marie Harlick.
Justice Ann Hinton handed down the jail sentence when Hohua appeared in Tauranga High Court today.
The sentencing follows a week-long trial back in November in which a jury of 12 heard about the beating Marie Rose Harlick suffered before her death on November 22, 2016.
Marie died following a 20 minute assault in which Hohua punched, kicked and stomped on her, with the sounds reverberating through the house and alerting neighbours, who called police.
At the time of the murder, Hohua was already on bail for a prior violent offence against Marie, of intent to injure.
Hohua originally pleaded not guilty to murder, but admitted killing her.
Before reaching a decision today, Justice Hinton called upon members of Marie’s family to directly address the defendant.
“You have caused immense damage to the family of Marie and I must take their presence here today into account.”
Namesake and aunt, Marie Harlick, was the first of six family members who delivered her victim impact statement to the defendant.
She says she was given custody of Marie’s 20-month-old child, Vivienne.
“She was a mess when she came into my care. She would cry constantly, she couldn’t speak or even look me in the eyes. She was frightened and needed constant reassurance.
“She had trouble sleeping, was shy and frightened of males and couldn’t be in the same room as them.
“We have a photo in a room where she can talk to her mum, she says ‘good morning Mum, I love you mum’ every day.
“The mother-daughter time between Vivienne and Marie is gone, Robert has destroyed it.”
She spoke of the despair she felt over her deceased niece, ‘Mush’, who she regarded as a daughter.
“I am the proud namesake of Marie, who, up until she was 17 years old, thought of me as a second mother.
“Unfortunately a falling out with one of Marie’s siblings meant we lost contact and Robert has taken away any chance for me to mend that relationship.”
Hohua also heard from a number of Marie’s siblings and relatives who spoke of the pain they felt over her death, with photos being all that remains of their relative.
“I never got a hello or a goodbye, my sister will never meet my fiancé or my family,” says brother Judd Allen.
“I lost a nephew a few years back who was stabbed to death. Marie’s death is like a kick to the guts,” says relative, Sidney Ranapia.
Crown prosecutor Richard Jensen also delivered a submission this morning, asking Justice Hinton to base Hohua’s sentence on two defining features.
He outlined these features as being: Hohua’s unlawful entry into Marie’s residence and; the overall brutality, cruelty and callousness of the murder.
He says particular features elevate the seriousness of the offending, one being the duration of the assault.
“It was at least 20 minutes and up to 30 minutes, as stated by the defendant during his police interview.
“The brutality of the assault must also be considered. Marie Harlick was on the ground, incapacitated for the majority of the blows, which continued.”
The Crown also noted the presence or close proximity of Vivienne Harlick.
“The duration and nature of her presence speaks to the callousness and brutality of this offending.”
Crown also outlined the unlawful nature in which Hohua gained access to the residence.
“Hohua had been at the property earlier in the day. Taking matters into the realm of the law, he had no lawful right to be at the address based on his bail conditions.”
The conditions state Hohua was to reside at separate nearby property, and not to approach Marie’s address or get in contact with her.
“His entry into Ms Harlick’s property did not have an innocent purpose, his reason for going was jealousy.
“He forced his way in. Those factors elevate the realm of a general murder.”
Crown asked Hohua be sentenced a minimum of 17 years.
Defence counsel Gene Tomlinson disputed the Crown’s submissions.
“It is a matter for Justice Hinton to determine if forced entry is illegal.
“In a legal sense, Hohua was a leasee of the property, he had been present at the address all day prior to the murder with permission of the deceased.
“In this sense, it’s not illegal for him to be at the property, rather, the bail conditions created an element of being ‘not welcome’ which is different to being illegal.
“They were only living apart because of bail conditions and in terms of his motivations being unlawful, jealousy is not unlawful.”
Counsel also disputed the offending as being of a high nature.
“All homicides which involve beating with hand and feet are brutal.
“While this is a brutal homicide, it is not one of a high level.”
He asked for a minimum of 13 years imprisonment
“This is a life sentence and as such, Hohua will be subject to this forever based on the conditions and control of probation officers.
“The minimum sentence is simply there to act as a timeframe before a submission can be made to the parole board.”
In her sentencing remarks, Justice Ann Hinton spoke about Hohua’s background
“You are 36 years old and you have seven children, which you have little contact with.”
She says Hohua was raised by his grandparents until the age of 12, when they both passed away and he has little contact with his parents.
“Your father was a Nomad and later turned to the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
“You noted that you weren’t sure if your mum knows about your offending, unless she has seen it in the media, which is concerning.”
She says after the death of his grandparents, Hohua was moved around to live with different relatives.
One being an uncle who physically abused him, along with a relative who he says also sexually abused him.
“At 17 years old you were convicted to three years imprisonment for a serious sexual assault.
“You say life for you could have been different, if you were treated normally yourself.”
Justice Hinton made mention to Hohua’s previous violent offences, which she says must be taken into account.
“My duty is to decide the minimum period before you will be eligible for parole.
“As defence has mentioned, whether or not you are released is the decision of the parole board. There is no guarantee it will be accepted, that is subject to parole.”
In her response to Crown submissions, Justice Hinton declared the breach of bail conditions as an unlawful act.
“It is not lawful for someone to be at a property where, their bail conditions say, they are not allowed to be.
“Marie Harlick did not have authority to waive bail. Consent does not matter.”
In terms of the brutality of the offending Justice Ann declared she regarded the offence was consistent with being of a high level of brutality, cruelty and callousness.
She based her reasoning on seven factors.
“The attack involved multiple injuries to the head, the most vulnerable part of the body. It was also prolonged.
“The victim was unconscious or semi-unconscious on the ground and virtually disabled throughout the duration of the attack.
“There was kicking, punching and stomping – and in the case of stomping there were multiple blows.”
She also noted the severity of the blows.
“The victim choked on her own blood and overall had more than 36 injuries on her body.”
She sentenced Hohua to serve a minimum of 17 years imprisonment.