Insanity main issue as murder trial begins for Auckland man who admitted cutting pregnant girlfriend's throat

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Insanity main issue as murder trial begins for Auckland man who admitted cutting pregnant girlfriend's throat

“I can’t believe my anger led me to commit such a horrific crime.”

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That is what Akash, a then-24-year-old murder convict who goes by only one name, admitted to a judge six years ago as he was sentenced for the death of his pregnant girlfriend, who had her throat slashed and abdomen stabbed.

Jurors on Tuesday were told about the statement, and that Akash previously pleaded guilty to murder, as his unusual trial began. They were also told that in 2020 the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction so that a jury could instead decide the case.

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“The starting point for this trial is a little different that others heard in this building,” defence lawyer Julie-Anne Kincade, QC, told jurors at the High Court at Auckland. “You know Mr Akash killed Ms Kaur.”

The crux of the case for jurors, both Kincade and Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes seemed to agree, will come down to one question: Was the defendant so mentally ill that he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong?

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Gurpreet Kaur, 22, was believed to be between seven and 10 weeks pregnant in 2016 when she suffered 18 cutting wounds and 12 stab wounds. The cutting wounds included injuries to her jugular vein on the side of her neck and a 10cm cut across the front of her neck. She suffered deep stab wounds to her chest and abdomen.

Days later, Akash would take police to a remote location in Manurewa, where her body was then found on the side of the road. But first, the prosecution said, he would give multiple accounts of what happened.

In his first interview with police, he went so far as to suggest his own brother might have been responsible for the death, Kayes said. Akash later suggested to police that his girlfriend stabbed herself, wanting to commit suicide, and that he tried to stop her.

But after he pleaded guilty in August 2016, just four months after her death, he told a psychologist that he had heard voices in his head since his childhood growing up in India. He had been prescribed medication to address the issue but had stopped taking it when he moved to New Zealand, he said.

“While he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time, he knew that what he was doing – killing her – was wrong,” Kayes said.

Insanity main issue as murder trial begins for Auckland man who admitted cutting pregnant girlfriend's throat

Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes said murder defendant Akash knew he was doing wrong as he stabbed his pregnant girlfriend to death. Photo / Michael Craig

He was instead motivated by rage and jealousy after Kaur told him that day that she wanted to end the relationship and that the child wasn’t his, prosecutors suggested. He also had a $400-per-month methamphetamine habit and contacted his dealer multiple times that day, they said.

But there should also be no dispute during the trial that the defendant suffered a disease of the mind, including paranoid schizophrenia, defence lawyer Kincade later added.

“Mr Akash believed he was being followed, his electronics were being hacked,” she said. “He told his brother before the police how he thought Gurpreet was messaging other people … He believed they were going to hurt him.”

Jurors will have to “untangle” how much of the killing “was to do with his illness and his paranoia”, Kincade said.

Akash’s trial marks the first at the High Court of the new year and the first new jury trial since the Covid-19 Delta variant outbreak sent Auckland into lockdown nearly six months ago.

Justice Mathew Downs addressed the pandemic after the jury was selected, telling them that they will likely receive multiple rapid antigen tests throughout the estimated three- to four-week trial.

“We are all in this together,” he said, mentioning the risks of starting a trial amid the current Omicron outbreak. “We all need to limit, me included, our social interactions.”

But, he added, the precaution is merely a request rather than a requirement.

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