Published in the Gisborne Herald
THE SPCA is pleased with its prosecution of two Gisborne men who ill-treated wild goats, then shared footage on social media.
The men were sentenced in Gisborne yesterday and SPCA chief executive officer Ric Odom says it was the court’s conviction of the men rather than the scale of their punishment that was important.
The case drew national media attention and was essentially a “test” case driven by lawyers running a defence that the men were legitimately hunting wild animals, therefore exempt from prosecution for animal cruelty.
But the court’s ruling sent a clear message that regardless of whether someone was hunting, people still had a responsibility to treat any animal under their control humanely, he said.
Richard Hamilton McKee, 34, truck driver, and James Boydey Manukau, 27, were found guilty of wilfully ill-treating goats by Judge Jonathan Down last July. Manukau was charged with the offence in relation to one goat, McKee in relation to two.
Yesterday they were each sentenced by the judge in Gisborne District Court to 100 hours community work in relation to one of the incidents, which involved a brown goat. It was filmed by Manukau for 71 seconds and included about 10 seconds of him dragging the animal by its broken hind leg up to a truck where dogs were set on it.
Additional sentence for McKee
McKee was additionally sentenced to three months community detention in relation to another incident for which he faced a second charge separately to Manukau, involving a white goat. That incident was filmed by an unknown person for about five minutes.
McKee was seen straddling and restraining the goat by its horns while encouraging dogs to bite its face and neck area. He eventually dispatched the animals by decapitating it but did so laboriously with a seemingly blunt knife.
Each defendant was ordered to pay prosecution costs of $500 on each charge. It was a fraction of the $6000 sought by the SPCA for forensic examination of computer equipment, which defence counsel Heather Vaughan for McKee and Tony Robinson for Manukau argued was unnecessary.
Prosecuting for the SPCA, counsel Leighvi Maynard sought sentence starting points of imprisonment — 18 months for McKee and 12 months for Manukau.
Although there were no tariff decisions to assist the court, a High Court ruling upheld a 12-month prison term set as a starting point for a man who put a cat in a sack and beat it with a rock, Mr Maynard said.
The sentencing principles of denunciation and deterrence had to be at the fore in the case involving McKee and Manukau, Mr Maynard said.
It might well have been that McKee and Manukau went hunting and that things got out of hand, but nonetheless both goats were subject to significant attacks, especially when grabbed around the highly innervated areas of their face, Mr Maynard said.
Manukau had dragged the brown goat from the bush by a broken leg, though he argued he was not aware of the damaged limb.
Both animals would have been in excruciating pain before their deaths.
Mr Maynard accepted that although the extent of McKee’s actions made him more culpable, his expressions of remorse, especially when shown the videos, were genuine.
Counsel for McKee and Manukau argued the suggested starting points were too high.
Mr Robinson said it would be difficult to reconcile such a starting point when a highly-experienced dairy farmer Rodney Wilson had recently only been fined for his intentional cruelty in breaking the tails of cows in his herd.
Denunciation and deterrence
Ms Vaughn and Mr Robinson said denunciation and deterrence had already been effected in the community and on the defendants personally by the trial and publicity it attracted.
Ms Vaughn said McKee in particular had suffered much condemnation and had not gone hunting since.
But he had also been approached by other novice hunters who said they now realised their own criminality and wrongdoing by similarly trying to train dogs.
Evidence at trial that it was common for novice hunters to post videos of their exploits overrode the Crown’s contention that by doing so McKee lacked insight, Ms Vaughn said.
McKee had a limited criminal history and had initially entered guilty pleas early, although those were withdrawn on legal advice.
He had relinquished his dogs back in 2014 before the withdrawal of those pleas.
Mr Robinson said Manukau had since removed himself from bad influences in Gisborne and was working at two jobs in Waihau Bay.
The area was outside the range for electronic monitoring so, if imposed, Manukau would be forced to move elsewhere for the duration.
Judge Down agreed denunciation and deterrence had already been effected.
Had he been sentencing the men within a few months of the offending, which occurred in September and October 2013, the outcome might have been different, the judge said.
Videos of the incidents were shocking and hard to watch. It was just a matter of common sense that was not the right way to go about training dogs, the judge said. But he accepted the men were naive and overenthusiastic rather than intentionally cruel.
Everyone expresses remorse differently
He gave credit for their initial guilty pleas, noting but not critical of the observation that the case was clearly driven by lawyers.
He accepted that while Manukau had come across as jokey and flippant in evidential interviews, that might just be his character. Everyone expressed remorse differently, Judge Down said.