Te Puke killing: Woman and teen on trial

File photo.

A woman having an argument on the phone with her partner over missing Christmas money allegedly encouraged a teenager who was in the car with her to run him over when they saw him standing on the street.

The Crown says the teenager then drove on the wrong side of the road and partly up the kerb to “deliberately” hit Taku Manu Paul, before performing a U-turn and running him over a second time.

When paramedics arrived, Paul had no pulse, wasn’t breathing, and wasn’t able to be revived.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Now the teen, who has name suppression, and his female passenger 40-year-old Ephron Ronaki are before a jury in the High Court at Hamilton facing a charge of murder following Paul’s death in late 2022..

Crown Prosecutor Caitlin Bourke said in her opening address on Thursday that Ronaki and Paul were arguing over the phone because she thought he had taken money she’d been gifted for Christmas.

The argument happened while she and the teenager were driving around Te Puke, near Tauranga.

Bourke referred to messages on a group Messenger chat that referred to Ronaki’s state of mind at the time – “Lol [she’s] crying” and “said she got ripped off”.

Ronaki and the teenager had picked up other teenagers late that night, after they’d sent messages on the same group chat, asking for a ride.

Ronaki then called Paul to ask where he was, and the carload drove there, with arguments about money continuing.

On seeing Paul on foot, it’s alleged Ronaki threatened she would get the teenager to run him over.

The Crown says Paul said, “do it”, and he egged them on, before the teenager hit him twice with the vehicle.

An alleged ‘false confession’

After the incident, the court heard Ronaki turned up at the cordon and told police she “did it”, she had been driving and had “hit” her partner.

She faces a charge of perverting the course of justice, as investigations by police revealed it had not been her driving.

The Crown said the jury might conclude she’d made a false confession in order to protect the teenager from police prosecution.

The Crown says the jury will see social media messages recovered by police which were sent by the teenager to friends, in the wake of the incident: “I just lined the wheel up with his head and boosted,” and “F*** yeah, I shouldn’t have done that”.

The Crown says messaging on the Facebook app Messenger, and social media generally, will form an important part of the case.

Defence lawyer Ron Mansfield, KC, who represents the teenager, told the jury they would need to keep an open mind as they heard the evidence over the coming weeks.

He said it wasn’t a trial about what did or did not happen, but about intent.

“It’s about what this [teenager] thought could happen, whether he stopped to think, and what he intended,” he said.

Mansfield said the events of the night in late 2022 had been fast-moving and stressful, and the teen never intended to seriously injure, much less kill, Paul.

Ronaki’s lawyer, Andrew Schulze, said he agreed the trial would be about intention.

He said the jury would need to look at the context, and not look at the incident in a vacuum.

The trial is expected to run for three-and-a-half weeks.


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