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Delcelia Witika - A case of child abuse
News reports on the death of Delcelia Witika sickened New Zealanders. The description of the events leading up to her death and how Delcelia's body was found left many asking 'How could such a horrific crime occur and go undetected in a civilised society.
Authorities were first alerted to this case by a phone call on the night of 21 March 1991 from Tania Witika, Delcelia's mother. Witika made a call from a local video store to report in a matter-of-fact way that she had just arrived home after "a couple of hours" absence to find her two-year-old daughter dead.

Martin Smith was the ambulance officer sent to the Mangere home. He later told the High Court he found an emaciated child lying dead in a fetal position on a scrunched piece of filthy plastic on her bed. The child had gross scarring on her buttocks, which appeared to be burns. There were also burns to her feet and hands, and bruises over the remainder of her body. Before calling for urgent police attendance, he asked Eddie Smith about the burns and the reply was that the child fell into a bath "four or five weeks earlier" but had not been taken to a doctor.

When police arrived, Tania Witika sat outside in a patrol car with Detective Constable Caroline Fisher who says she's never forgotten the coolness and lack of emotion shown by the mother, who casually asked her for a cigarette.

Initially police were only going to charge Smith with Witika as a witness against him.

However, later police laid charges against Witika believing that although Smith has beaten her, she still failed her daughter by not supplying medical care. As the investigation progressed, more charges were laid against the pair, which included; willfully ill-treating Delcelia between July and October 1990 in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering; failing to provide medical care for the burns so that Delcelia's life was endangered; willfully ill-treating Delcelia by placing her in hot water; murder; and manslaughter.

Smith pleaded guilty to the first three charges but not guilty to the rest. Witika would later plead not guilty to all charges laid by police claiming she was not responsible for her actions due to 'battered-woman's-syndrome', claiming that Smith would beat her whenever she tried to help Delcelia.

Witika, who enjoyed a beer or six, first met Eddie Smith in a South Auckland bar in June 1989. Within two weeks of meeting, Smith had already started to 'knock' Tania Witika around.

Tania kept a detailed diary, which often mentioned Smith belting her, but it also extensively mentioned an enjoyable life with him of parties, beer, sex and other fun. "Sex with Eddie is great," she wrote on February 4 1991, just weeks before Delcelia's death. "Sometimes I have to control myself, especially if we are in bed together enjoying each other's company. With him I can reach a fantastic orgasm that I could never, or even thought of reaching." Her diary also spoke of her own violence against her daughter. Initially she told police that she alone was responsible for beating Delcelia. Smith blamed Witika also. When Witika found out that Delcelia's injuries included massive sexual abuse, she changed her story
claiming Smith was responsible for the major injuries.

The police photographs of the Mangere house, Delcelia's squalid bedroom and her tiny, tortured body remain to this day among the most harrowing, gut-wrenching evidence ever presented to a jury in a child abuse case in this country.

Coloured photographs of the crime scene showed that Delcelia's body was used as a punching bag from one end of the house to the other. Her blood was splattered on walls and carpets. There was a large pool of blood on the sheet less, blanket less mattress she slept on. Vomit had dripped down the skirting board where the little child was sick during her final night alive. Burns aside, some close-up photos of Delcelia's neck showed vicious injuries caused by long fingernails. Photos of the inside of her mouth showed where teeth have been smashed out and the inside of her top lip ripped from the gum. Other photos showed scarring to her head where her hair has been violently pulled over several months.

The Pathologist at the trial, Jane Vuletic told the court that Delcelia died of peritonitis caused by blows to her abdomen. She said Delcelia also suffered from severe malnutrition, a broken jaw, and burns to 15 per cent of her body and many other injuries.

The most dramatic moment in the trial was the very last day. During the trial Witika claimed she had gone partying with Smith while Delcelia was dying because Smith had threatened to 'waste her' with a steel bar if she didn't go and had also put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her on the way there. But barrister Christopher Harder, representing Smith, was given a home video of that party which crown prosecutor Mike Ruffin screened in court the morning final addresses were made to the jury.

The video showed Witika happy, smiling and enjoying herself with Smith. It would have been influential to any juror. Witika and Smith were both found guilty of manslaughter and the other counts of neglect and ill treatment.

Both were sentenced to 16-year prison terms.

A documentary 'Deadly Love - The Tania Witika Story' screened in New Zealand in 1998. It was based on Tania's story, on how she was a battered woman, about her not having a choice and drew parallels between her and Arthur Allan Thomas as both being parties to miscarriages of justice. But the last word goes to now Sergeant Caroline Fisher, who was involved with the case from the outset. She says, "Those gouges under Delcelia's chin were made by a woman. Sure Eddie hit Tania but she had ample opportunities
to get away from him. She stayed and did nothing for Delcelia. Look, her dairy even moans about him not wanting sex with her. Eddie got what he deserved but so did Tania".

That fact remains that someone never did - Delcelia



Back to Child Abuse Index
 

Two-year-old Delcelia Witika died a horrible death in March of 1991 in the south Auckland suburb of Mangere.

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