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Fatal Ashburton stabbing: Kia-ara Richardson guilty of manslaughter, victim’s mother speaks

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From left, Peter Hemi’s brother, Aaron Hemi, mother, Te Atatu Hemi, and grandfather Evan Hutchings. Photo / George Heard

This afternoon Kia-ara Richardson was found guilty of manslaughter after fatally stabbing her partner Peter Hemi more than four years ago.

Herald senior crime reporter Sam Sherwood spoke with Hemi’s mother ahead of the verdict.

Peter Hemi had just finished packing his mum’s car he was borrowing to take belongings down to his new home where he was going to live with his girlfriend.

The 23-year-old father of three – his youngest merely two weeks old – was moving out of the cabin at his mother’s Ashburton home and into a home with his then partner, Kia-ara Richardson, age 19.

The pair had – by most accounts – a volatile relationship.

Their constant arguing and bickering was too much for those living in the house, so Hemi agreed he and Richardson would move out.

After packing the car Hemi went and saw his mother, Te Atatu Hemi to say goodbye.

“I got to say hooray to him and be safe and I gave him a big hug, a kiss, and away he went,” she told the Herald.

“He said ‘Yeah Mum, I’ll see you later, I’ll be back later on’, and that was it.”

Several hours later Te Atatu was at home when she received a call to say something was wrong with her son.

Once she arrived, Te Atatu, who was left paralysed after a workplace incident in 2015, took her wheelchair over to the ambulance expecting to find Hemi.

Moments later she spotted the 23-year-old lying on the ground near her car. He was dead.

“It was just horrific. I asked someone to cover him because he looked cold.

“You go back to being that mother that wants to just hold your child but I couldn’t.”

She knew instantly it was Richardson who was responsible for her son’s death.

Richardson was later charged with murder and went on trial in the High Court at Christchurch last month – more than four years after the lethal incident.

Today a jury found her not guilty of murder – but guilty of a lesser alternative charge of manslaughter.

Richardson will be sentenced in July.

From left, Peter Hemi's brother, Aaron Hemi, mother, Te Atatu Hemi, and grandfather Evan Hutchings. Photo / George Heard
From left, Peter Hemi’s brother, Aaron Hemi, mother, Te Atatu Hemi, and grandfather Evan Hutchings. Photo / George Heard

Te Atatu Hemi was 23 when she gave birth to the first of her two sons, Peter Tawhiwhiorangi Hemi.

Even as a child Hemi was a “character”, she said.

“He was the light of our lives. You knew when he was in the room, always cracking jokes, being a laugh.”

He also had a caring side that would see him often bringing “strays” home asking his mum and grandparents if they could stay the night.

“I’m like ‘do these kids have parents?’ and he’d go ‘chill out, this one needs a feed, and that one needs a shower’. He’d pull stunts like that all the time.”

From a young age, he aspired to be in the army. He went through cadets and the Limited Service Volunteer (LSV) programme.

Hemi attended Ashburton College but was eventually expelled.

“He was brainy enough, but it was the activities he was doing like taking synthetics to school and sharing them around.”

Things started to look down for Hemi, but he did a YMCA course for a couple of years and then became a father for the first time and tried to turn his life around.

Peter Hemi. Photo / Supplied
Peter Hemi. Photo / Supplied

Te Atatu says for a while he changed for the better, going back to LSV, and changing his attitude and his life in general.

“He got on better with his partner to build a stable life for them.”

However, the couple broke up and his partner moved to the North Island.

In 2019, Hemi met Richardson, and a couple of weeks later the pair were living in a cabin out the back of Te Atatu’s home.

Te Atatu says Richardson appeared “guarded”.

She would later tell a jury Richardson would rarely come inside their home and that it was “more or less a hidden relationship”.

“They were always together. They’d have their good days and bad days – but they spoke to each other like mud… swearing at each other, arguing all the time.”

Te Atatu told the Herald that those living in the house had “had enough” of the couple’s bickering.

“I’ve always spoken to my kids if there’s a problem we’d sit down at the table and talk about it,” she explained.

“He was aware of how everyone in the house felt about him and her arguing.”

Hemi decided to move out with Richardson to a home on McDonald St.

On November 8, 2019, Hemi was using his mum’s car to take all his stuff from the cabin to the house on McDonald St.

He’d been staying at the home for a few nights already, but was now getting the last of his belongings.

After saying goodbye and sharing a hug, Hemi got in his mum’s car and drove away.

Later that evening, Te Atatu received a call to say “There’s something wrong with Peter, can you come”.

Te Atatu called a friend to pick her up and her wheelchair and they headed straight to the address.

When she arrived Hemi’s younger brother, Aaron, was already there.

“I went straight for the ambulance and there was no one in there.”

She then saw the police tape. Aaron saw his mother and said, “Mum, you don’t want to go over there”.

Te Atatu went in the direction of her car and saw her oldest son lying on the ground.

Kia-ara Richardson was on trial for murder. Photo / George Heard
Kia-ara Richardson was on trial for murder. Photo / George Heard

“It was horrible,” she recalled.

“They let me be by the tape for a wee while, give me time to process what I could, and then the detective asked if we could move aside when we were ready so they could do what they needed to do.”

Te Atatu went across the road and parked her wheelchair on a resident’s lawn, watching the scene in front of her.

She says she knew Richardson was involved as soon as she saw Hemi on the ground.

It would take more than four years for the case to be in front of a jury in the High Court at Christchurch.

Te Atatu says the wait was difficult for her and the family, with one trial being postponed a week before it was due to begin.

“It was gut-wrenching.”

On day one of the trial the full details of Hemi’s death were read out by the Crown prosecutor, Andrew McRae.

He told the jury that the alleged murder followed a fight between Richardson and Hemi regarding their plans for the night.

The couple had been to a party in Tinwald but returned home after Hemi had an “altercation” with another woman.

During the fracas, Richardson was seen to “pull out a knife”.

After the incident, the couple returned to McDonald St.

Hemi wanted to go to another party but Richardson wanted to stay at home which sparked the fatal fight.

The couple were heard arguing and McRae said there was abuse hurled “both ways”.

Peter Hemi died in Ashburton in 2019. Photo / Ashburton District Council
Peter Hemi died in Ashburton in 2019. Photo / Ashburton District Council

Hemi got into a vehicle and Richardson climbed into the back seat.

The arguing continued and Hemi was heard shouting at Richardson to “f*** off” and “get out of my face, b****”.

And then there was silence.

“The Crown say at this point, in a moment of extreme anger borne out of the hurtful verbal tirade, she stabbed Mr Hemi in back of the head,” McRae said.

“It penetrated his skull… the estimated depth of the wound was 13-15cm.

“[Richardson] pulled that knife out two or three seconds later. She got out of the car, slammed the door shut, walked to the fence line of the property and disposed of the knife by throwing it in the long grass.”

She then went back to the car and opened the driver’s door, McRae explained.

Hemi fell out onto the ground. “He was bleeding significantly and was clearly dying… He called weakly for help,” said McRae.

Hemi was heard screaming “I’m bleeding out, f***ing call an ambulance, I need help.”

Richardson started to scream for help but then called 111 herself. McRae said Richardson claimed Hemi stabbed himself in the head.

She said when they were in the car he turned and “looked at me as if he hated me”.

She got out of the back seat and walked to the driver’s door and by the time she opened it Hemi had stabbed himself, she told police.

“That is the principal issue for the jury – who it was that inflicted the wound?” he said.

“Was it the defendant or did Mr Hemi do it to himself? There was no knife near Mr Hemi or in the surrounding area when he died. You might ask yourself if Mr Hemi had done that to himself – how may that be?”

Richardson’s lawyer, Rupert Glover, briefly addressed the jury and said while McRae’s opening was “pristine and contradictory at this stage” it was crucial they listened to all of the evidence.

“Don’t be fooled by my friend’s confidence,” Glover said. “Keep your eyes, ears and, above all, minds open.”

Te Atatu, who was the first of more than 50 witnesses to be called by the Crown, was not allowed in court until she’d given evidence.

The trial took place in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / George Heard
The trial took place in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / George Heard

“It was very hard being put in front of everyone,” she said.

Listening to other evidence in court brought back a lot of the grief from when she saw her son that night.

At trial it was mentioned Peter had an association with the Nomads gang. Te Atatu did not know this at the time of his death and couldn’t understand why he turned to gangs.

“We’ve never been involved in that type of thing. The closest thing Peter had ever been to a gang was a shearing gang that my parents were in in the shearing industry.

“Our lifestyle was shearing… my kids were brought up with that work ethic.”

For Te Atatu even getting to court each day for the trial was a journey in and of itself. In August last year, she crashed into a car in front of her which then crashed into another car after “spasming behind the wheel” and accelerating, rather than braking.

She ended up in Ashburton Hospital for scans when they found she had cancer in her right lung.

She then went to Christchurch Hospital and is now staying at Nurse Maude.

Each morning her carer arrived about 6.30am to get her ready for court, arriving outside the court building about 9am each morning in her van.

After court, she’d get back in the van with the doors at Nurse Maude locking about 6pm.

She has surgery coming up for a pressure wound and will then recover at Burwood Hospital.

She hopes to be back home in June and has about 12 months of immune therapy left.

Asked how she takes it all in, she thinks back to 2015 when she was paralysed.

“When I knew what state I was in I think I learned to say well no one else can change my situation – I have to,” she said.

“So, if you can mentally be positive about your situation then I think that helps.”

In 2017 Te Atatu’s mum died from cancer, the following year her uncle also died from the disease.

Then, in 2019 Hemi was killed.

“I expected my mother and uncle’s passing. That was a given, we knew they were sick,” she said.

“But when you get hit with a sudden death like Peter’s, and an unnecessary one… to die for something so stupid and trivial.

“I feel like I brought him into the world for nothing, for somebody else to take him away from me.

“I got no pre-warning – no inkling that that was the last time I was going to see him in my house.”

As the trial was under way Te Atatu was told there was some “horrible stuff” on social media about her son.

Her main concern was his children and worrying that his 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter might see it.

She rang the 11-year-old and told him there were some posts online about his dad but that he needed to remember what he meant to him not what he heard or saw online.

The family has not told the three children what happened.

“We’ve just told them that Dad passed away four years ago and that we’re going to court to find out what happened to him, why he died.”

Te Atatu says her grandchildren are her “reason to be above ground”.

His oldest child looks just like Hemi, she says, and his daughter has the same “loving, caring attitude”.

His youngest son, who was only two weeks old when Hemi died, is now 4.

He often asks Te Atatu “Where’s my Dad?”

Te Atatu takes the children down to the cemetery where they sing and talk to him.

She often looks through old photos of Hemi on her phone.

Each year on his birthday she will go on Facebook and post a poem she writes for him.

“There’s everyday reminders of him,” she said.

“I really do feel like I died that day with him.”

While at court recently Te Atatu was asked by a relative whether, as a family, they would heal once the trial was over.

“I said ‘What does that look like?’ Because we’ve never had that chance yet, so we don’t know,” she told the Herald.

“We can’t answer that because we just don’t know what that looks like. Over the past four years, all it’s been for us is grief, hurt, anger.

“But to hold somebody accountable would mean a heck of a lot.”

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