On June 14 and 22, and July 8, 2018 there were three serious fires in Rarotonga. Tonorio was charged with three counts of arson – he pleaded not guilty.
A jury last year found him guilty of burning down Arorangi Friendly Mart, Betela Tex Mart and Raro Mart in 2018.
Judge Colin Doherty sentenced the 18-year-old to eight years and six months in prison.
Defence lawyer Norman George’s submissions were on the grounds that Crown Law’s evidence of the four-confession of Tonorio’s friends lacked corroboration and credibility.
Defence said that their strong alibi evidence was not given sufficient weight, Judge Doherty’s summing up was defective and there was prosecutorial misconduct.
George had argued that there had been a miscarriage of justice and there was no sufficient evidence before the jury to convict Tonorio.
In his argument for sentencing, George had argued that there was a failure to adequately consider Tonorio’s age.
Tonorio’s appeal was heard by Court of Appeal justices Sir David Williams, Sir Raynor Asher and Sir Douglas White, by video link to New Zealand.
Judge Williams said the criticism of the prosecution was unwarranted.
There was nothing to indicate that the Crown was making any submissions to the jury that were not supported by a fact, or could not be seen as an interpretation of the facts that was open.
“We do not accept the submission that the jury failed to judge the facts of the case properly, and failed to take care and exercise due diligence in carrying out a proper analysis.
“There is nothing at all to indicate that this trial went wrong. We can see why a jury might accept the confession evidence and reject the defence alibi evidence. It was open to the jury to do so.”
On the appeal against the sentence, the Judges found that Tonorio was exposed to a sentence of up to fourteen years imprisonment on each arson charge, and there were in addition the burglary charges.
“These crimes were most serious. In a country such as the Cook Islands where the population is small and the buildings are not large, the burning down of a supermarket is a significant matter,” the judges said.
“The victim impact reports make hard reading, and show the calamitous effects on the businesses involved, and the great distress of the proprietors.”
Judge Williams said that given Tonorio’s defence of the charges and the lack of any mitigating factors relating to the offending, the only significant mitigating factor to consider was his considerable youth as he was 17 at the time of the offending.
“However, his action was hardly one of impulsive, youthful foolishness. This was repeat offending by someone who must have been aware of the distress his actions were causing the community.”
He said they would have been inclined to set a higher starting point by one year more than that of the sentencing Judge.
“Even if we had given a considerably higher discount, the end sentence would still not have been less than eight and a half years. We do not think that sentence in all the circumstances is manifestly excessive.”