The “deliberate and forceful” kicking of Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie in the head which caused brain damage and ultimately her death was not an isolated event, a High Court jury was told on Tuesday.
“It was the conclusion to a period of ill-treatment over days, weeks and probably months,” Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said in his opening address at the Rotorua trial of five people allegedly implicated in the short but tortured life of Nia, who was killed last year aged three years and four months.
Brothers Wiremu and Michael Curtis have pleaded not guilty to the child’s murder, while her mother Lisa Kuka has denied two counts of manslaughter, by failing to provide medical treatment and failing to protect her daughter from violence.
Nia’s cousin, Michael Pearson, and Michael Curtis’s then partner Oriwa Kemp have also pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.
Apart from Lisa Kuka, the accused are also being tried on various charges of wilful ill-treatment and assault.
Pilditch said they were “Nia’s own whanau” – the people she lived with and, in the case of Pearson, who visited frequently.
The on-going violence to the little girl included not only spinning her in a tumble dryer and on a revolving clothesline while adults “stood around laughing at her,” but the men used her for “wrestling moves.”
Called names such as Tombstone, they were based on television wrestling programmes and a video game.
The accused men used the moves as a way to control Nia and two older children in the house, said Pilditch.
“Nia was obviously terrified of the games played on them (the children).”
He told the jury the toddler was also forced to take a cold bath, compelled to sit in a sandpit naked from the waist down, dressed in dirty clothes, and made to stay outside in the cold.
Once she was seen alone on the roof of the house.
Nia was also regularly kicked, punched and had objects such as shoes thrown at her.
All five accused were criminally responsible for the way the little girl was treated and for her death, either as principal offender or a party to a crime by encouraging or inciting it, the prosecutor submitted.
He told the court that Nia was the youngest of three siblings who lived with their mother. An older brother lived elsewhere, as did two half-brothers Kuka had with other partners.
Kuka, now 35, started a relationship with Wiremu Curtis, then 17, in 2006.
At the beginning of last year, the couple and the three children moved into Curtis’s father’s cramped one-bedroom flat in Rotorua with William Curtis senior and his daughter.
Fletcher said evidence would be given of regular arguments and alcohol consumption there and abuse and neglect of Nia. Neighbours fed her when they realised she was hungry.
Kuka worked hard in a kiwifruit packhouse at Te Puke, sometimes up to 12 hours a day, he said.
Nia was often left in the care of her mother’s partner, Wiremu.
That continued when the pair and the three children moved in with his brother Michael Curtis, partner Oriwa Kemp and their two-year-old.
Although the house had three bedrooms, it was still reasonably cramped, said Fletcher.
It was there, in the last weeks of her life, that Nia Glassie suffered the worst of her torture, he said.