Monday, 1 Mar 2021

Whakatāne Black Power member on trial defending attempted murder charge

The lawyer for a gang member accused of almost fatally stabbing another man belonging to a different gang chapter says the Crown has “the wrong man” on trial.

Cruz Sonny Fruean, 31, whose jury trial began in the High Court at Tauranga yesterday has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted murder and an alternative charge of causing grievous body harm while intending to cause Wetini Ranapia serious harm.

During his opening address, Crown prosecutor Oliver Salt told the jury that the trial was about a near-fatal stabbing in Whakatāne on the evening of May 10, 2019.

Salt said Ranapia, 42, required emergency surgery at Whakatāne Hospital after he was stabbed in the upper left chest and through his heart with a large knife by the accused.

He said the stabbing took place after Ranapia and his three relatives attended a family tangi in the town and then visited the local Turf Bar that same afternoon.

Salt said Ranapia and his relatives then visited a female associate’s home in Hotene St intending to buy drugs from her.

He said while at the woman’s address, the defendant poked his head through her bedroom window and told her he wanted to speak to Ranapia outside.

Salt said Ranapia and Fruean, who are both from different chapters of the Black Power,then got into a heated exchange outside the house and Fruean threatened to kill him.

Fruean, a senior member of the Tumana chapter, took exception to Ranapia’s three relatives wearing red coloured shoes and confronted Ranapaia about it, he said.

Red is the common colour for members of the Mongrel Mob and the Bloods.

Salt said the jury would hear evidence from Ranapia’s relatives that it was Fruean who not only stabbed their uncle but tried to stomp on his unconscious body.

Ranapia’s relatives would also give evidence that Fruean threatened to harm them and their families if they told the police he was responsible for the injuries, he said.

Salt said Ranapia required emergency surgery to remove a large amount of blood.

The minimum depth of the stab wound which pierced the outer wall of the right ventricle of Ranapia’s heart was 8 to 10 cm and he nearly died several times, he said.

“Mr Ranapia was clinically dead for two minutes before his heart became beating again.”

Salt said during the trial which was estimated to take two weeks, the jury would also hear evidence from several civil witnesses, including Ranapia, his relatives and partner.

Several police officers and two forensic scientists were also among the witnesses, he said.

During questioning by Crown prosecutor Duncan McWilliam, Ranapia said he could not recall whether he and the stabber exchanged blows but “it was all on”verbally.

The next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital, he said.

Ranapia said he had seen the defendant around town some weeks before the stabbing but did not know his name although he knew he was from a different Black Power chapter.

He also admitted he had gone to the address to use a bong to smoke cones (marijuana).
but cannot recall much about what happened inside the bedroom.

Defence lawyer Fraser Wood made a brief opening statement to the jury.

Wood said the defence case was that the Crown had the “wrong man”.

“It’s a case of mistaken identity as Mr Fruean says he was at his home at the time and has no idea who stabbed Mr Ranapia.”

Wood said there was no forensic evidence, DNA or blood specimens or other direct evidence that linked his client to the stabbing.

He urged the jury to carefully consider whether the person who stabbed Ranapaia had distinctive features or whether they were common among Whakatāne gang members.

Wood also said it was important for the jury to consider whether Ranapia’s relatives were reliable witnesses as they had admitted earlier lying to police about the stabbing.

During cross-examination by Wood, Ranapia said he had little recollection of the stabbing other than seeing another man coming towards and confronting him in the dark.

Ranapia said as a member of the Black Power New Zealand chapter in Whakatāne, he objected to being yelled at that his relatives were “wearing the wrong colour”.

However, Ranapia said he had been told by his relatives and several others from the tangi and around the town that it was “Cruz” who had stabbed him.

But he had no recollection of who stabbed him after nearly dying because it was dark and difficult to see that evening.

“It was hard to get your head around it and it all happened so quick.”

The stabber was wearing a “foul mask” (full facial tattoo) which the defendant had, but Ranapia conceded lots of different gang members in Whakatāne wore these markings.

During the trial, Justice Timothy Brewer granted Fruean permission to wear dark sunglasses for medical reasons to reduce his risk of suffering migraines.

Justice Brewer told the jury they could not take into account hearsay evidence, including Ranapia’s revelation that he was told by others that Fruean had stabbed him.

The judge said the onus of proving either charge beyond reasonable doubt lay with Crown

and the defendant did not need to prove his innocence.

The trial continues today.

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