Man who killed stranger during car park dispute eligible for parole

A man who killed a stranger after headbutting him during a dispute over a supermarket car park has become eligible for parole – just six months after being sentenced for the death.

Emilio Richard Mac Tanirau Whaanga appeared before the Parole Board late last year, just months after being given a sentence of three years and three months in prison.

In December 2019, the 24-year-old, who at the time was serving a one-year sentence of intensive supervision for stomping on another person’s neck, became angry with a fellow shopper after believing he had parked in an incorrect car park in Lower Hutt.

The victim, a 55-year-old man whose name is suppressed, had tried to park in a disability spot at Countdown because he had his mother, who uses a wheelchair and has a mobility permit, with him.

When he couldn’t find a vacant spot to park he instead parked in an area designated for parents.

There are no bylaws in Lower Hutt preventing a person from parking in a parents’ park.

Tanirau Whaanga, who was out buying nappies for his 1-year-old, became enraged.

“After himself parking nearby he approached the victim, confronted him and then head-butted him, causing the victim to fall to the ground,” said the Parole Board following a hearing in December.

The man suffered numerous seizures while unconscious on the ground and was taken to hospital with multiple skull fractures. He died after being taken off life support the following day.

His mother later recalled her horror at being unable to rush to her son’s aid without her wheelchair. She also described how she had not only lost her son, but her “best friend”.

“That feeling is with me even now . . . I feel that I will turn around and he will be lying on the ground.”

A police summary of facts read to the court after Tanirau Whaanga pleaded guilty early last year revealed he went off to do his shopping after knocking the man out, leaving him lying on the ground.

On his return from the supermarket he walked back past the victim without bothering to help and tried to drive away. He only stopped when he was blocked by a taxi.

He was arrested by police at the carpark soon after and tried to justify his actions saying the victim had walked into his head.

During his sentencing in June, his lawyer Chris Nicholls described him as a “time bomb” that “exploded” at the victim.

He said Tanirau Whaanga had a difficult childhood and tendency to respond violently and disproportionately when angered. He “bottled up” his feelings “and it created a monster”.

Nicholls said probation officers knew he needed “psychological intervention to deal with his feelings of insurmountable anger” but didn’t refer him to programmes that could help.

Tanirau Whaanga read out a letter of remorse to the victim’s family during his sentencing, saying he was “ashamed” and “highly dishonoured”.

“It has broken my heart knowing what has happened . . . forever grieving in sorrow and regret,” he said.

“I’m truly sorry from the bottom of my heart, and God bless.”

Tanirau Whaanga has a statutory release and sentence end date of March 4, 2023. Due to time already served be became eligible for parole late last year.

Unless the court imposes a longer minimum non-parole period, all offenders serving sentences of more than two years become eligible for parole after serving one-third of their sentence.

The board acknowledged he had not sought parole during his hearing and noted he was undergoing a rehabilitation course.

He is due to reappear for another hearing before the board in April where he has been asked to put forward an approved address where he could be paroled to when he is eventually released.

“He is aware that no promises or indication has been given as to the outcome of that hearing.”

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