Witness Puapii Nicholas’ dramatic about-turn was a blow to the Crown case against alleged arsonist David Tonorio.
Just three days into what was meant to be a two-week trial, Nicholas was called to testify against his friend by repeating what he told police.
He swore an oath on the Bible to tell the truth, and took his seat in the witness box. But just two minutes into his testimony, he paused. He asked Crown lawyer Kathy Bell to hold her questions, as he said he wanted to speak to Judge Colin Doherty.
Then, in front of the 12 jurors, Nicholas turned back to the court and announced: “The statement is a lie.”
Nicholas, 18, said police had taken his phone off him, with photos of his late mother. He just wanted his photo back – so he told police what he thought they wanted him to say.
Nicholas was one of the four young men who were called as Crown witnesses yesterday. The other two stuck to their police statements, implicating their friend.
Tonorio is charged with three counts of arson. He is alleged to have burnt down the Friendly Mart, Betela Tex Mart store and the Raro Mart buildings last year.
Nicholas told Judge Doherty that police had approached him when he was working and asked him about the three alleged arson. At the time, Nicholas thought it was a chance to get his phone back.
So he lied: “David burnt it.”
But now, he wanted to change his life around and his new boss has been teaching him to tell the truth and be honest.
When asked by Bell why he did not disclose this during their meeting last week, Nicholas replied: “I was too scared. I wanted to tell it to the judge.
“I did not know when to bring it out, so I told myself I’ll wait for this day and I’ll tell the truth … as I put my hand on the Bible, I can’t lie.”
Nicholas said police took his phone when he was first searched, as he was a suspect for burglary. And despite telling police that was his property, he didn’t get his phone back.
In fact, he had never spoken to the defendant since last year, when he went to the home of another witness, Jonathan Simpson, looking for a bike part.
Another witness, Philip Hosking, told the Court that after the Raro Mart fire, Tonorio did tell him he caused the fire. “Rumours were going around that he did it. I confronted him and his first response was no, and later he said he did it.”
Hosking said Tonorio also told him he committed the Friendly Mart fire but not the Tex Mart blaze.
The trial continues today with the third boy.