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Judge dismisses assault charge

Punch was self-defence against “racially abusive” man



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A judge has thrown out an assault charge, saying a near-fatal punch was justified self-defence against a “racially abusive” man who had threatened to kill him.

Judge Peter Butler gave his decision on Thursday in Masterton District Court after the three-day trial of Puruata Nootai, 22, who punched a man in Clyde St, Masterton, on January 11.

While Nootai’s punch was hard enough to knock Paul Cadwallader out, the judge believed the life-threatening head injuries he suffered were caused by the impact with the concrete driveway.

Butler said Nootai faced “an angry, racist and irrational man who had threatened him” in the hours before the incident.

Cadwallader suffered multiple skull fractures, a broken nose, brain bruising and a build-up of blood. His brain moved 7mm.

He was in hospital fighting for his life for three weeks and was not expected to survive.

Had Cadwallader died, Nootai would have been charged with manslaughter.

But the judge said the punch was not “disproportionate” with the threats from Cadwallader.

The charge police lodged against him, injuring by unlawful act, carried a maximum sentence of three years.

On the day of the incident, Nootai, from Porirua, had been visiting his brother’s family, who lived next door to Cadwallader.

Witnesses, and Nootai, told the hearing that Cadwallader had been taunting him, and the family, in the hours before the assault.

He had been yelling racial slurs such as “you f…ing coconuts” and “f…ing brown bastards”.

Cadwallader approached the family up to five times that afternoon, once with a sharp gimlet tool, threatening to kill them, Judge Butler said.

On the final approach, Cadwallader invited Nootai for a fight.

Nootai said in his police statement that he did not think Cadwallader was actually going to punch him.

Judge Butler said Cadwallader was the “first and final aggressor”, being the one who asked for a fight and who threw the first two punches.

Police prosecutor Tom Andrews said Nootai had other options, such as fleeing the scene or calling police, instead of engaging in the fight.

However, Judge Butler said Nootai was “under attack”.

“At that point, the defendant would not have had time to call police or retreat.”

Cadwallader threw the first two punches, which Nootai dodged. Nootai then responded with a punch that resulted in Cadwallader falling to the ground, and hitting his head on the driveway.

Emergency responders found the gimlet in Cadwallader’s back pocket.

“He was armed during the actual attack — [Nootai] wasn’t aware, but had been worried he was,” Judge Butler said.

Defence lawyer Ian Hard said the judge’s decision was a “just result”.

He was relieved the judge had acknowledged Cadwallader was armed at the time of the incident.

Hard said Nootai’s family had been “worried and stressed” about the case since the incident.

About 13 witnesses were called on the first day of the trial, including Nootai’s family members, and statements read from police and ambulance staff who attended the scene.

On Thursday, day two, a medical report of Cadwallader’s injuries was presented, and a two-hour video recording of Nootai’s voluntary statement to police was played.

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