Days of fu­ture past

Waikato Times - - History - RICHARD SWAIN­SON

To­day, when mur­ders at­tract sen­sa­tional head­lines, thoughts may well turn to cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. The re­cent case of the ‘‘pam­per party’’ kitchen slaugh­ter cer­tainly sug­gested to this cor­re­spon­dent that Anna Browne, who wielded the butcher’s knife, was ripe for the hang­man.

Less than a hun­dred years ago this was a re­al­ity in New Zealand. In Hamil­ton, in 1921, one Hakaraia Te Kahu stood trial for the mur­der of his friend and work col­league Pa­trick Richard El­liot, at On­garoto, near the up­per reaches of the Waikato river. Whilst two ear­lier ju­ries found the ev­i­dence too cir­cum­stan­tial, Te Kahu’s third pros­e­cu­tion ben­e­fited from ad­di­tional wit­ness tes­ti­mony, plac­ing him close to the scene of the crime, bran­dish­ing a shot­gun which bal­lis­ti­cally matched the mur­der weapon. This proved de­ci­sive. Mr Jus­tice Stringer ex­pressed him­self most clearly when pass­ing sen­tence. Call­ing the homi­cide ‘‘foul and atro­cious’’ and not­ing that he agreed with the jury’s de­ci­sion, Stringer was said to have ‘‘as­sumed the black cap’’ be­fore ut­ter­ing the im­mor­tal line, that Te Kahu ‘‘ . . . be taken to the place of ex­e­cu­tion and there be hanged by the neck un­til dead’’.

Hav­ing dis­played a stoic dis­po­si­tion through all three of his tri­als, the con­demned man ‘‘com­pletely broke down and cried like a child’’. Col­laps­ing in the dock, Te Kahu was as­sisted back to his cell, where he re­ceived med­i­cal at­ten­tion, hav­ing ‘‘stiff­ened out as from a par­a­lytic stroke’’.

Par­lia­ment re­ceived nu­mer­ous pe­ti­tions urg­ing that the sen­tence be com­muted. At first these pleas were based on the no­tion that some doubt ex­isted as to Te Kahu’s guilt. How­ever, after the con­victed man be­lat­edly con­fessed, al­beit claim­ing the shoot­ing was ac­ci­den­tal, the ar­gu­ment shifted. Ei­ther way, the gov­ern­ment was in­dif­fer­ent. The fact that Te Kahu robbed El­liot’s corpse, went gam­bling a few hours after the mur­der and dis­played no re­morse for what he had done, could not have helped his cause. Given Te Kahu’s pen­chant for col­lapse a new de­vice was em­ployed on the gal­lows, pin­ning his feet and sup­port­ing his shoul­ders. At the last, he ‘‘bore up bravely and al­though labour­ing un­der strong emo­tion and breath­ing heav­ily, he stood erect’’. Death was in­stan­ta­neous.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.