Dead baby found with meth in her system

Donovan Michael Duff is on trial at the High Court in Rotorua accused of the murder of his nine-month-old daughter (file photo).

A nine-month-old baby allegedly murdered by her own father - and described by her grandfather as 'my heart' - was found to have traces of methamphetamine in her system.

The presence of methamphetamine in the urine of Maija​ Puhi-Duff was revealed at the High Court in Rotorua on Tuesday at the trial of the baby's father, Donovan Michael Duff, 42.

Puhi-Duff died in Turangi on March 12, 2016.

Duff, charged with one count of murder, has maintained his innocence.

Crown prosecutor Amanda Gordon had previously claimed that Puhi-Duff was the victim of a blunt force trauma that happened when she was in the care of Duff.

At the second day of the trial Puhi-Duff's mother Melina​ Puhi gave evidence, telling the seven men and five women of the jury how much her daughter loved her father.

While on the witness stand, Puhi sobbed often.

"They got on like a house on fire," she said.

"Some days she wouldn't settle for me."

Puhi said that the bond between father and daughter left her feeling "a bit rejected sometimes".

She described how after an argument with Duff she left to spend time with relatives, eventually returning Puhi-Duff to her fathers' care before spending time with friends.

She said that at no time was she concerned about leaving her daughter with Duff.

Then Gordon asked whether she was aware police testing had found traces of methamphetamine in Puhi-Duff's urine, prompting Justice Mathew Down to warn Puhi-Duff she did not have to answer.

However, she said yes, admitting that she smoked roughly once a week and Duff smoked daily.

She said that he never smoked around the child, something she denied too.

"He operated fairly normal when he was using it," she said.

She also described the events of the morning of Saturday March 12, 2016, when she discovered her daughter had died.

She said she woke at a friend's house to a missed call from Duff, and a voice message from her aunty.

"I freaked out because of the tone of her voice. She said it was baby and she was crying."

On arriving at a relative's Turangi property she found Duff and their daughter, unresponsive in his truck.

"He [Duff] was hugging me and said 'we've lost baby'," she said.

"He said he'd got up in the morning and she was alright...he woke up about half an hour later and she wasn't moving or breathing."

Under questioning from Duff's defence lawyer Moana Dorset, Puhi-Duff confirmed her belief that her daughter was loved and safe with her father.

She also confirmed an incident two weeks prior to her death when she fell from a car seat and down some steps, resulting in a bump on her head.

Casey Duff, Donovan Duff's second cousin, also gave evidence about looking after Puhi-Duff the day before her death.

She said she saw no visible signs of bruising on the child, who seemed well.

She said she got a bit "grizzly" at one point but settled after a walk.

Her voice cracked when she described returning Puhi-Duff to her father and seeing "big smiles for him".

"Every time I saw them together you could tell there was love from both sides," she said.

Melina Puhi's father Rameka Puhi also gave evidence, describing his granddaughter as "my heart".

During an emotional testimony he also described being in the ambulance while an officer tried to revive the toddler.

"I prayed so much he could so something for her," he said,

"He had a bloody good go, and I think he only carried on because I was pushing him. I think he already knew."

He was also asked if he believed Duff loved his daughter.

"Yes," he said.

At the end of the day's hearing Justice Down said the trial was on track to last for two weeks and issued a warning to the jurors.

"Please keep an open mind. This is only day two of the trial."

- Benn Bathgate/Stuff.co.nz


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