Woman charged over toddler's death
10:13am 17 March 2009
New Zeland Police NGA Pirihimana O Aotearoa

A woman will appear in court later today charged with the murder of 3-year-old Cherish Tahuri-Wright.

Cherish died at Wellington Hospital on Wednesday, February 18; the day after being found with head injuries at a house in Ahuru Street, Marton. 

This morning a 56-year-old woman from Marton has been charged with murder and will be appearing at Wanganui District Court later today. 

The parents of Cherish have been informed of the charges.

A team of about 20 officers had been working on the investigation. This has now been scaled down to two officers who will oversee the remaining enquiries and the prosecution.

Media enquiries should be referred to Communications Manager Kim Perks on 027 234 8256.

Marton woman charged with child's murder
17/03/2009 10:48:02
Newstalk ZB

A Marton woman will appear in court today charged with the murder of three-year-old Cherish Tahuri-Wright.

Cherish died in Wellington Hospital on February 18, the day after she was found with head injuries at her grandparents' house in Marton.

This morning a 56-year-old woman from Marton has been charged with murder. She will appear in Wanganui District Court later today.

Woman charged with girl's murder
Last updated 10:39 17/03/2009

A woman has appeared in court charged with the murder of three-year-old Cherish Tahuri-Wright. 

The 56-year-old woman was granted interim name suppression when she appeared in the Wanganui District Court this afternoon. Other details that could identify her were also suppressed.

She was remanded in custody till April 20.

Cherishsiliala, also known as Cherish, died at Wellington Hospital on Thursday, February 19 - two days after being found with head injuries at a house in Marton.

Police said this morning her parents had been informed of the charges.

A team of about 20 officers have been working on the investigation. That will now be scaled down to two officers, who will oversee the remaining inquiries and the prosecution.

Woman charged with murder of girl, 3
11:23AM Tuesday Mar 17, 2009
New Zealand Herald

A woman has been charged with the murder of a three-year-old girl at Marton last month.

Cherish Tahuri-Wright died at Wellington Hospital on February 19, two days after being found with head injuries at a house in Ahuru Street, Marton.

A 56-year-old Marton woman had been charged with murder and would appear in Wanganui District Court today, police said.

The parents of the dead girl had been told of the charges.

A team of about 20 officers had been working on the investigation and this had been scaled down to two officers who will oversee the remaining enquiries and the prosecution.

Cherish was found by police when they were called to her grandparents' house at 12.15pm on February 17.

She was initially airlifted to Palmerston North Hospital and was later transferred to Wellington Hospital.

Cherish, whose parents live in Porirua, had been living with her grandparents in Marton for a few weeks.


Woman charged with murder of three-year-old girl
Updated at 2:09pm on 17 March 2009
Radio New Zealand

Police have charged a woman with the murder of a three-year-old girl who was found with fatal injuries at a house in Marton.

Cherish Tahuri-Wright was found with head injuries at the home of her grandparents on 17 February.

She died two days later in Wellington Hospital when she was taken off life support.

Police say a 56-year-old woman is due to appear in Wanganui District Court on Tuesday. Officers have told the child's parents about the murder charge.

An initial investigation team of 20 has now been scaled down to two officers, who will oversee the remaining inquiries and prosecution.

Woman in court over child's death
20/04/2009 13:08:03
Newstalk ZB

A woman charged with the murder of three-year-old Cherish Tahuri-Wright has appeared in the Wanganui District Court.

The identity of the woman remains suppressed. She was remanded in custody to reappear on May 11.

Cherish died at Wellington Hospital on February 19, two days after being found with head injuries at a house in Marton.

We erred in Cherish case, says St John

St John Ambulance has admitted it mishandled the care of a fatally injured toddler, but says the delay in getting her to hospital did not contribute to her death.

In February the ambulance service began an internal investigation after it took more than two hours to get injured three-year-old Cherishsiliala Tahuri-Wright from the Manawatu town of Marton to Palmerston North Hospital a drive of 40 minutes.

The girl, known as Cherish, later died in Wellington Hospital from severe head injuries. A 56-year-old woman has been charged with her murder.

In the investigation findings issued yesterday, St John Ambulance medical director Tony Smith said the initial emergency response was immediate but the "broader clinical picture and the need for rapid transport were lost".

He described the one hour and 53 minutes spent attempting to stabilise Cherish at the scene as "excessive".

Emergency services received a call at 12.17pm on February 17 and, on arrival at the scene, found the girl unconscious with poor breathing.

But the local doctor and two ambulance crew decided to call for specialised help to insert a breathing tube into her lungs.

The paediatrician they called was unable to leave Wanganui Hospital, and the advanced paramedic on a Palmerston North-based helicopter was delayed while the craft refuelled. Another advanced paramedic arrived by car and inserted the tube and Cherish was flown by helicopter to Palmerston North by 2.46pm.

Dr Smith said it would have been quicker to take her to hospital by road and have her breathing tube inserted there.

But the emergency medicine specialists who reviewed the case did not find the transport delay contributed to her death.

"All personnel involved became focused on their own particular role and tasks, with nobody taking an overall view," he said. "We are applying the lessons learned from this case to improve our responses in future to similar cases."

Porirua Deputy Mayor Litea Ah Hoi, who spoke on behalf of Cherish's father, Nofosione Wright, said she was "really pleased" St John Ambulance had fronted up to its mistakes and was making changes.

But she was astounded that a doctor and paramedics had to call for outside help to insert a breathing tube.

"While it's too little too late for Cherish, Nofo is pleased it won't happen again, that another child's life could be saved," she said.

"I just hope the extra government funding also goes to training and retraining staff. And if that doctor, who is primarily accountable to St Johns, is not sure how to insert a breathing tube, that needs to be addressed as well."
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The Government will give the critically short-staffed ambulance sector $48 million over the next four years.

- The Dominion Post

By her grandmother's hand

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It never occurred to Cherish's mother that her own mother might be responsible for the brutal head injuries that resulted in Cherish's death.

Joanne Tahuri had been happy to help babysit her grand-daughter Cherish many times at her Marton home in the Rangitikei.

"Mum used to babysit Cherish often. It was never a problem. She was happy to do it for me," Cherish's mother, who has name suppression, told The Dominion-Post.

Tahuri never made it to Cherish's tangi or visited the dying toddler in hospital.

She pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her grand-daughter near the end of a two-week prosecution case in Whanganui District Court on Monday.

She had earlier tried to blame Cherish's fatal injuries on the little girl's three-year-old cousin.

The young girl was found bleeding and badly injured at Tahuri's home on February 17, 2009. She had been left in her grandmother's care.

Cherish was flown to Wellington Hospital after she had been violently shaken by her grandmother. She died two days later after being taken off life support.

"To be frank she looked like an alien," the mother said.

The tragic story began when Cherish travelled to Marton with her mother and uncle on January 29 to attend Tahuri's 56th birthday party.

Cherish and her mother spent four days in Marton with Tahuri and her partner, Alan Kemp Hunia, 51, a meatworker, at their Ahuru St home.

The toddler was left with her grandmother for two weeks after the party when her mother and uncle hitchhiked home.

"There was a lot of alcohol at the birthday party," the mother said.

Despite that, the mother had no qualms about leaving her daughter with her grandmother.

"I decided Cherish could stay up there with Mum. Mum offered to look after her. She used to ring me up quite a lot so I could talk to Cherish.

"My last phone call from Mum was on a Thursday [February 12, 2009] saying they [her stepfather and mother] were going to bring Cherish home.

"My mum said she would ring me before midnight ... That was the last time I heard from Mum."

Cherish lived for three years, three months and one week. She was born in Wellington Hospital on December 12, 2005.

She died battered and bruised in the same hospital when her mother made the toughest decision of her life to switch off life support.

"It was quite hard. I was not myself. I had my victim support worker to help me."

Cherish's mother recalls difficult times during her own upbringing.

"I was eight when I was first taken out of my mother's home. I was away from home [off and on] for five years in social welfare care.

"But I kept on running away from there [the social welfare accommodation] because I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to be at my own house."

Despite her own tough upbringing she trusted her mother to look after Cherish.

"I trusted my mum. She was all good about it. She asked me to leave Cherish with her. She had my nephew staying there as well."

The nephew, aged three, had lived with Tahuri and Mr Hunia since he was a week old.

Cherish never came back to her home. Instead she returned to Wellington in a coma aboard a helicopter.

After Cherish's death, Tahuri was imprisoned in Arohata Prison on remand while awaiting her trial.

She wrote several letters to Cherish's mother, who refused to open and read them.

"My friend [a support person] reads me parts of the letters that it is good for me to hear. She [Tahuri] sometimes says in the letters I should forgive her and come and visit her in jail."

Cherish's short life was lived mainly at Cannons Creek with her mother, who was on a domestic purposes benefit. Her father was a frequent, supportive visitor.

Cherish's mother still does not know who her own father is.

After Cherish's death last year, she was in and out of Wellington Hospital's Ward 27 psychiatric unit.

"I wanted to be with Cherish."

Her health has improved this year and she now has a part-time cleaning job.

After this week's guilty plea, Joanne Tahuri will somehow have to deal with the grief surrounding her almost unheard of situation in Arohata Prison.

She will have to mourn the loss of her grand-daughter, a child she admits killing. She will also have to deal with not being able to help her own daughter cope with the grief surrounding Cherish's brutal death.

FOOTNOTE: Now that her mother's trial is over, Cherish's mother says she has one thing on her mind. As part of the grieving process she wants to provide an appropriate headstone for Cherish. But she has insufficient funds to complete it.

Anyone wishing to help contribute to a headstone for Cherish can send a direct credit donation to the Ninness Funeral Home, Porirua, bank account number 02 0548 0028594 000.

Cheques can be sent to Cherish headstone – reference 12050, Ninness Funeral Home, PO Box 50347, Porirua.


February 17, 2009: Cherishsiliala Tahuri-Wright, 3, suffers fatal brain injuries at the hands of her grandmother Joanne Tahuri.

She dies in Wellington Hospital on February 19, 2009.

March 17, 2009: Tahuri charged with murder.

May 27, 2010: Tahuri pleads not guilty to the murder charge.

Monday, May 31: Tahuri pleads guilty to manslaughter. She is scheduled to be sentenced by Justice Warwick Gendall in the High Court at Whanganui on June 25 or July 2.

- The Dominion Post

Cousin hit Cherish, jurors told

A three-year-old was partly responsible for the death of his cousin Cherishsiliala Tahuri-Wright, a lawyer for their grandmother will argue.

The murder trial of Joanne Jasmine Tahuri, 57, of Marton, began in the High Court at Whanganui yesterday, before Justice Warwick Gendall.

Tahuri is charged with the murder of Cherish, 3. The Porirua child died of head injuries in Wellington Hospital on February 19 last year.

Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said Cherish had been staying in Marton with her grandmother, cousin and her grandmother's partner Alan Kemp Hunia, 51, at the time of her death.

Despite Cherish taking a fall at a playground three days before receiving her injuries, she was seen to be well shortly before her rapid decline in health, Mr Vanderkolk said. "It was a descent into unconsciousness and ultimately death."

The jury would hear how Cherish was sick, struggling to breathe, with clammy skin, an erratic pulse and blood coming from her mouth, Mr Vanderkolk said.

A neighbour also saw bruising on Cherish's face, he said. "When she confronts the accused and asked how the bruising occurred, she is told [the cousin] did that."

But the blunt force needed to cause Cherish's subdural haematoma required a fall of several metres and could not have been caused by another three-year-old, Mr Vanderkolk said.

Tahuri was under stress on the day of the incident, having had less than four hours' sleep and waking to a flooded kitchen that morning, he said. She reacted when Cherish's breathing became laboured, by shaking her and putting her in the shower to revive her, before going next door for help. "The Crown will ask you to focus on a gap in her account, between the time Cherish was well and unwell, which had in it an unlawful act."

Throughout the statement, Tahuri stared at the ground and wiped away tears, occasionally raising her hand to her face as if to shield herself from the jury's view.

Cherish's mother, whose name was suppressed, said her daughter was very self-sufficient, able to dress herself, make her own breakfast, and play unassisted in a playground.

She remembered Tahuri being "stressed and tired" when she dropped Cherish off at her house in February, but Tahuri did not explain why, she said.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Elizabeth Hall, Cherish's mother said the girl's cousin was extremely jealous of anyone who took attention away from him. He would occasionally hit Cherish, pull her hair, call her names, steal her toys and hit her with them.

Cherish was born with asthma and once every two weeks would turn blue, the mother said. She would then shake Cherish until she came around.
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The family were aware of Cherish's breathing problems but she had never seen Tahuri physically abuse her, she said. Cherish was "accident prone" and occasionally walked into tables and doors.

The trial is expected to take four weeks.

- The Dominion Post

Spotlight falls on last days of Cherish's life
18 May 2010

The spotlight in the trial of a Marton woman accused of murdering three-year-old granddaughter Cherish Tahuri-Wright shifted today to the last few days of the girl's life and her relationship with a cousin, a boy of the same age who lived in the same house.

Alan Hunia, partner of Joanne Tahuri, 56, who has denied killing Cherish, told Justice Warwick Gendall and a jury in the Wanganui High Court, that Cherish was quiet, slow, and clumsy on her feet.

Chiefy, the cousin who had lived with them since his birth and whom he regarded as his own, was chunkier and taller, rough and naughty.

Sometimes Chiefy would kick Cherish or bang her on the head, he said.

"You just couldn't trust him at all. He wanted attention all the time. Running down the road was one of his favourite pastimes. He wanted attention," Mr Hunia said.

On the other hand, Cherish, who had a very special bond with her grandmother, would never run away or off down the street. She would just sit there, even when she was being punched or kicked, or her hair was being pulled.

Mr Hunia also gave evidence of two accidents Cherish had during the weekend, two days before she was found unconscious and airlifted on February 17 last year to Palmerston North, then Wellington hospital, where she died two days later.

He described how she had somehow fallen between steps on a slide at a playground in Marton and how she had hurt herself while playing at home, either on the back steps or a low wall nearby.

Alerted by Chiefy, he said he had got out of bed and found Cherish sitting on the ground and pointing to her head. But she never said a word.

Late on the morning of February 17 he was called at work by Tahuri, who said Cherish was not well. He told her to call a doctor.

He said he had never seen his partner physically discipline Cherish, whom she loved very much. But he admitted hitting Tahuri, once in front of Chiefy. He could not remember throwing her across the room or giving her a black eye shortly before Cherish arrived to stay for the last time.

"But I never ever hit Cherish," he said. "I never hit the girl."

Evidence was given by Dr Zlatko Benic, a Marton GP, who was called about 12.30pm on February 17 to the accused's home in Ahuru Street, Marton, where he found Cherish lying on her side in a darkened room.

She was "very, very unwell" -- struggling to breathe and with an irregular heart beat.

She had apparently been normal until her grandmother came into the bedroom and found her lying on the floor. She had been lifted onto a bed by a policeman and had bruising on her face and leg, her jaw was locked and there were traces of blood in her mucus. Once stabilised she was transferred to hospital.

Anna Hardy, the practise nurse who accompanied Dr Benic, found the grandmother and a small boy with his hair in a pony tail waiting for them.

She said she didn't know whether the bruising on Cherish's face was fresh or not but it was very pronounced. The girl's condition was "extremely serious. I've never seen anything like it in my time".

Senior Constable Paul Johnson said when he arrived at the home and was met by Tahuri, he thought it was a case of a child who had been sick for a couple of days and she was waiting for a doctor.

"She did not seem overly concerned."

Tahuri had said the child had fallen and hit her head on concrete at the weekend but had been fine until now. She also said the boy, who was running around the place and was "pretty full on", often hit her.

Mr Johnson said the only evidence of blood on Cherish was on her teeth, consistent with what could have been a small cut on the gum.

The case continues tomorrow and is expected to last for up for four weeks. 

Cherish murder accused wouldn't help paramedics

As her granddaughter lay in the next room, dying of severe head injuries, Joanne Tahuri refused to tell paramedics what had happened, a court has heard.

Tahuri is standing trial for the murder of Cherishsiliala Tahuri-Wright, known as Cherish, in the High Court at Whanganui.

The Porirua toddler died of severe head injuries in Wellington Hospital on February 19 last year.

The Crown alleges Tahuri inflicted a blow strong enough to cause a subdural haematoma, or bleeding between the brain and skull.

However, the defence intends to argue a combination of factors - including assaults by the toddlers' three-year-old cousin - contributed to Cherish's death.

On day three of the trial today, the jury heard from St John Ambulance Officer Bruce Tolhopf, who was the first paramedic called to Tahuri's house on February 17, 2009.

He received a call at 12.20pm that day and arrived at 12.39pm, with another paramedic, to find Cherish lying on a bed with her jaw locked and hands cramped.

She also had fixed pupils was also experiencing slight seizures, he said.

"They were short spasms and jerking movements. They came in pulses."

All could be considered signs of brain damage, he said.

Mr Tolhopf said he administered oxygen then talked to Tahuri in an attempt to find out any information that could assist with saving Cherish's life.

"The first two times I asked her [what happened?] she said 'I don't want to talk about it'. The next time I asked she said she wouldn't talk about it and walked back inside.


Earlier today, Shona Bollinger - who lived near Tahuri in Marton on the day Cherish received her fatal injuries - gave evidence.

Ms Bollinger said Tahuri came to her house around 11am on February 17, 2008 in a panicked state to borrow the phone.

She overheard Tahuri on the phone with her partner Alan Hunia, saying, "Can you come home urgently please, there's something wrong with Cherish," Ms Bollinger said.

When she asked Tahuri what was wrong, Ms Bollinger was told, "There's blood coming out of her mouth and she's had trouble breathing."

Ms Bollinger said she rang 111 for an ambulance but could not get through, so she called the Marton Police station.

Ms Bollinger said that when she told Tahuri the police had been called, Tahuri replied by saying, "No, no, no, I don't want them involved".

Ms Bollinger said she went with Tahuri to her house to find Cherish lying almost unconscious, struggling to breath, with blood around her mouth and a bump on her forehead.

"Her mouth was clamped shut. It was like she had bitten her tongue," she said.

The trial is continuing.

- The Dominion Post

Five years' jail for child's death
20th June 2010 

Sleep-deprived and dealing with a flooded kitchen, Joanne Tahuri lost control and lashed out at her three-year-old granddaughter.

It was only a momentary lapse but one that would prove fatal and, in a sad new chapter in the tragic, dysfunctional life of the Marton woman, she was yesterday jailed for manslaughter.

After causing the injuries that would ultimately take the life of Cherishsiliala Sheliah Tahuri-Wright in February last year, Tahuri panicked and endeavoured to get help for the child. That effort was always going to be too late, Justice Warwick Gendall told Tahuri at her sentencing in the High Court at Wanganui yesterday.

Justice Gendall sent Tahuri,  57, to jail for five years and nine months.

Cherish died in the early hours of February 19 in Wellington Hospital from injuries that the neurosurgeon said could not have been survived.

Justice Gendall said Tahuri's assault on her granddaughter was brief and occurred quickly, which caused Cherish to decline rapidly with bleeding between the brain and skull.

Only when Judge Gendall began his address did Tahuri lift her head from her hands as she sat in the dock.

The trial for murder opened on May 17, but in the third week Tahuri amended her plea of not guilty to murder to guilty of manslaughter.

In his submission, Crown prosecutor Lance Rowe told the court that one blow from "Tahuri's sudden loss of control was sufficient to cause the fatal injuries to Cherish".

Mr Rowe said the Crown accepted that there were issues with the middle-aged grandmother who was legal guardian of another grandchild, also aged three.

He said Tahuri was not well-equipped and under stress.
 Tahuri lacked sleep and woke to a flooded kitchen, but there was no reason why Cherish should have borne the brunt of her grandmother's loss of control.

Tahuri was seen by members of the Marton community hitting both her grandchildren, which Justice Gendall said were aggravating features in her sentencing.

Tahuri was clearly grief-stricken after hearing the Crown's submission of her actions that caused the death of her granddaughter.

Defence lawyer Peter Brosnahan told the court Tahuri was a person with significant functioning disabilities.

Cherish arrived with her mother to celebrate Tahuri's birthday in February but when the daughter returned home, she left Cherish behind.

Mr Brosnahan said Tahuri recognised her actions were likely to have led to Cherish's death, her remorse was palpable and she acknowledged everything that had happened.

Justice Gendall also acknowledged that Tahuri had a degree of vulnerability and was poorly equipped with life generally.

He said Tahuri suffered from shocking abuse throughout her childhood and it was a sad commentary that someone like her slipped through the net and, poorly equipped, ended up looking after two small children.

Tahuri's life was dysfunctional and marked by violence.

But, Justice Gendall told Tahuri, she took refuge in silence and her active denial and her active intent to blame her grandson for Cherish's injuries was lamentable.

"I accept you did your best for Cherish and you provided physical and practical support, but you did not provide psychological and emotional support."

Justice Gendall said that, implicit in manslaughter, the offender never meant to cause the death of the person, but adults must keep their hands to themselves.

There was no sign of Tahuri's  partner or her family in the court.

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