Jury end second day of deliberations over fate of men accused of smuggling 35kg of cocaine into New Zealand

The jury in the trial of two men accused of smuggling cocaine into New Zealand in a diamante horse head have retired after a second day of deliberation.

The say they have reached a decision for one of the accused but are having trouble deciding the fate of the other.

Earlier, they returned to the High Court in Auckland seeking advice from the judge.

Justice Katz has said she will accept a majority verdict and sent the jury away to continue to deliberate.

The jury was reduced to eleven members yesterday after one member was discharged because of a bereavement.

Last July Customs found 35 kilograms of the A-class drug inside a glittering horse sculpture that arrived by plane.

Ronald Cook Senior, 56, and 44-year-old Augustin Suarez-Juarez of Mexico are on trial charged with possessing and supplying cocaine.

The diamante horse head was sent to New Zealand from Mexico and intercepted at Auckland International Airport.

Investigators used every trick in the book to track those allegedly behind the $14m drug haul. Source: 1 NEWS

Bill Cosby's wife accuses judge of bias days before sentencing for drugging and molesting woman in 2004

Days before Bill Cosby's scheduled sentencing on felony sex assault charges, his wife demanded today that a Pennsylvania ethics board investigate the judge over what she called bias.

Camille Cosby renewed allegations that trial judge Steven O'Neill had a grudge with a key witness, former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, in a 2016 pretrial hearing. O'Neill sent the case to trial afterward, and Cosby was convicted at a retrial this spring of drugging and molesting a woman at his home in the area in 2004.

Camille Cosby travelled to Harrisburg today to file a complaint with the state Judicial Conduct Board.

"My husband was improperly prosecuted in a trial presided over by an unethical judge who seeks to compound his unethical behaviour by sentencing Bill Cosby, now 81 years old and unsighted, for a charge that the former DA and the judge's rival, Mr Castor, determined was unwarranted and would never be prosecuted," Camille Cosby said in a statement.

Defence lawyers filed a similar motion in Montgomery County Court last week asking O'Neill to step down before today's sentencing.

Cosby, 81, faces up to 10 years in prison on each of three felony counts, but would likely get far less time under state guidelines. He has been on house arrest at his estate near Philadelphia since the April 26 conviction.

The Cosbys said they've hired a former FBI agent to investigate the alleged feud between O'Neill and Castor, the witness at issue, who had declined to prosecute Cosby when accuser Andrea Constand went to police in 2005.

Cosby's legal team asked O'Neill to step down before the retrial because of his wife's work as an advocate for college sex abuse victims, and previously called the case a political football in the 2015 race for district attorney. Castor was seeking to return to office, but lost to Kevin Steele, who later charged Cosby in the case as more accusers came forward and Cosby's deposition testimony in Constand's related lawsuit was unsealed.

The defence said the alleged O'Neill-Castor feud stemmed from the late 1990s, when they both pursued the job of county prosecutor and O'Neill dated a woman in Castor's office.

Steele, in a filing last week, called the defense effort to unseat O'Neill "a desperate, 11th-hour attempt ... to stop the sentencing."

O'Neill has not ruled on the motion but issued a passionate defense of his judicial independence when he refused to step down before trial.

Bill Cosby, left, arrives with his wife, Camille, for his sexual assault trial. Source: Associated Press

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman's message to her Government on NZ's Iraq troops: 'That money could so much better be spent on humanitarian aid'

The government's junior partner is criticising the government's decision to stay on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Golriz Ghahraman
Golriz Ghahraman Source: 1 NEWS

The Green Party said the money would be better spent on humanitarian relief and the soldiers should be brought home now.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pushed the deployment out until June next year, but hasn't ruled out pulling the plug on the training mission then.

That's despite the former Labour Party leader Andrew Little's opposition to the deployments, calling the soldiers' training mission in Iraq "redundant".

The mandate to stay was due to run out in November but Ms Ardern is now saying there are good reasons not to leave.

She would reassess New Zealand's deployment to Iraq early next year, she said.

"We have trained a significant number of security forces, my estimates that I've been given are up to 37,000. But now it's a question of whether or not in the future it might move to instead of training cadets to actually training trainers, and of course that would require a much smaller deployment.

"It might be a reconstruction role, it may be a humanitarian role. But it is a dynamic environment. Our view is that although it's unlikely it will stay exactly as it is now, but Cabinet is allowing itself the space to reconsider that next year."

The non-combat joint mission with Australia to Iraq began in 2015, as part of the 'defeat ISIS coalition'.

Islamic State remains a threat, Ms Ardern said, including to New Zealanders, particularly overseas - and that will factor in to any decision they make.

"The destabilisation that they cause affects all of us, and there is potential for New Zealanders wherever they are in the globe to be caught in the cross fire of some of the activity by Islamic State. But we all have a responsibility to contribute to countering terrorism," she said.

At the same time, they'll also look at Afghanistan.

New Zealand has contributed to the situation in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, since 2001, training and helping build the ability of the Afghan Army to counter the Taliban and other extremist groups.

But the Greens said we should withdraw now, and they didn't like the government's call to extend the deployments.

MP Golriz Ghahraman said we'd do much better to make a point of pulling our troops out, and spending the millions of dollars equivalent on humanitarian relief in the Middle East.

"That money could so much better be spent on humanitarian aid, on ensuring that our diplomacy is focused on ending these proxy wars in the Middle East. And you know, I have some personal experience of what that feels like.

"Victims on the ground actually would rather infrastructure be built properly or rebuilt after it's been damaged, would rather have access to medicine, would rather have their schools and hospitals rebuilt."

However National Party leader Simon Bridges is pleased Labour's come around, and is facing up to the responsibilities of government. He said it's necessary for New Zealand to make a military contribution on the world stage.

"The government when in opposition wasn't as supportive, they called it 'mission creep' when we did similar.

"But look, I think it's pleasing that they've come around to our view. It's a sensible set of decisions that they've made on the extensions of our forces offshore."

When it comes to the case for a withdrawal, Mr Bridges said that's a decision that must be made with very careful consideration. He said withdrawing troops is always an option, but an extension to the deployments now was the right thing to do.

- Reporting by RNZ's  Gia Garrick




Most read: Man told wife she was too weak to survive biblical rapture in plot to get her life insurance, court hears

This story was first published on Monday September 17.

Source: istock.com

A Queensland man accused of assisting his wife take her own life as he was the beneficiary of her $1.4 million life insurance told her she was too weak to survive the biblical rapture, a court has heard.

Jennifer Morant died on the Gold Coast in 2014 after her husband Graham Robert Morant, 69, allegedly repeatedly told her her suicide would not be a sin in God's eyes because of the financial windfall to his pastor aspirations.

Morant wanted to buy a property in the Gold Coast hinterland with the life insurance money to start a religious commune, Jennifer Morant's sister Lynette Lucas has told a jury.

"He had explained to her that he was going to have a communal environment, with bunkers and extended out-buildings so that when the raptures came, they would have a place of safety," Ms Lucas has testified in Brisbane Supreme Court.

"He was quite adamant he was going ahead with it ... (he said) she'd be doing something good for the church and helping him.

"He did reinforce they (the raptures) were very imminent. They were coming soon and Jenny would not be able to cope with this disaster and it would be better if she weren't around to experience it."

Jennifer was "horrified" by the plans and wanted no part of them, Ms Lucas said.

Morant pleaded not guilty today to aiding in the suicide of Jennifer and counselling her to do so.

He claimed he found a suicide note after coming home one night in November 2014.

The note explained Jennifer didn't want to be a burden on anyone, especially her husband, and it would not be fair on him to care for her "24 hours a day".

"Please believe it is my choice to do this and and there is no one to blame," the note read, said crown prosecutor Michael Lehane.

Morant told police Jennifer suffered "a lot of back pain" and took pain relief medication. But she was "fearful for her life", Ms Lucas said.

"(I told her) your life's in danger with these (life insurance) policies," she said.

Police found Jennifer, 56, dead in her car with a petrol generator.

Prosecutors allege Morant helped his wife buy the generator and assisted putting it in the boot of her car.

Morant said she tried to kill herself at least twice previously, the prosecution says.

Asked by police if he helped in her suicide, Morant said he didn't and she knew how to take her own life because she watched a lot of the US television show Crime Scene Investigation.

Jennifer was in "intense daily pain", defence barrister Dean Wells said.

"I suggest to you Graham is more innocent than anybody you will hear giving evidence against him," Mr Wells said.

"Truth is stranger than fiction. There are ... more subplots in this particular case than you will ever see in any courtroom drama on television."

The trial continues.

Auckland Council's plan to classify unchipped cats as pests results in death threats

An Auckland Council staffer at the helm of its new pest management strategy has received death threats.

A kitten, aged six to eight weeks, looks upward.
A kitten, aged six to eight weeks, looks upward. Source: istock.com

Animal rights activists met with the council yesterday afternoon to air their concerns about the city's plan to classify any cat without a microchip as a pest.

The strategy - due to be finalised by March next year - means any cat without a microchip found in council-branded biodiverse areas will be euthanised.

Councillors Penny Hulse and Cathy Casey met interest groups, including the SPCA and Paw Justice, this afternoon following death threats.

Ms Hulse said threats were made against Auckland Council's principal biosecurity advisor via social media and official council channels.

"[The advocacy groups] have actually been really good; they're been helpful and supportive. This is in no way linking them to any of that negative behaviour. We did, however, touch on the fact that some of our fringe members of groups or individuals are making these kinds of threats to staff and we all agree that that is completely unacceptable."

Ms Hulse said the threats have been reported to the police, and the staffer was receiving support.

She said the strong sentiment behind the issue was what led the council to meet with advocacy groups.

"We weren't under any legal obligation to go through a formal submission process but it just seemed to me that when you're dealing with something that is as personal and as passionately held as people's pets, that it was a really important thing to do."

Feral cats are already classified as pests under the council's existing regional pest management strategy, but the new one will mean any un-microchipped cat found at at specific sites of ecological significance will be considered a pest.

These cats will be the targets of cat-trappings and may be euthanised, like rats and possums.

Anne Batley-Burton, president of the New Zealand Cat Foundation, said pets are at risk in the new strategy.

"If that's the case you would end up with people's pets getting killed, you would end up with the poor strays being wiped out and that would be a terrible situation. These are all sentient beings and their lives should not be taken lightly."

Andrea Midgen, Auckland SPCA's chief executive, said the plan is just too broad.

"They've mapped and said these areas are ecologically sensitive but they haven't actually got down to whether they're ecologically sensitive to flora or fauna or both. So lets target the ones that are really critical, maybe like the regional parks, rather than the bush reserve that's at the back of a residential area."

The public needed time to transition, she said.

"In New Zealand we've had a situation where cats roam pretty freely...so we need to transition people to be able to manage that and put strategies in place to bring that about. Doing something next month or next year is going to be too much of a big ask, we need to give people time to get used to it."

Ms Batley-Burton said she knew nothing about those sending death threats.

This afternoon's meeting ended with councillors asking advocacy groups to use their influence to stop the culprits, she said.

"I find that rather strange actually because I can't imagine anyone doing that but that's what she said... if that's the truth, obviously these people need to be stopped."

Ms Hulse said the council's proposed plan would be finalised by March next year, after councillors have had time to consider the feedback they're received.

Following that the council would contact local communities affected by the pest management strategy, to ensure all cat owners have reasonable time to microchip their feline companions, she said.

- Reporting by RNZ's Anneke Smith