WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A jury has found five New Zealanders guilty of manslaughter in the death of a family member during an exorcism ceremony to drive a "makutu" or Maori curse from the woman.
Nine family members of the victim, Janet Moses, 22, performed an exorcism on her in October 2007, forcing water into her mouth and eyes to flush out demons and lift the makutu.
Moses drowned and a 14-year-old girl the group also believed was possessed suffered serious eye injuries as people picked at the demons they saw in them, the High Court hearing was told.
As the verdicts were read out in the courtroom in the capital, Wellington, late Friday, family members and supporters openly wept.
One family member shouted the "law stands for lies" as the decisions were announced after the 12-member jury had deliberated for 17 hours.
Three of the nine defendants were found not guilty and a fourth was discharged for lack of evidence. Outside the courtroom, people shouted and wailed, venting their anger toward media and lawyers.
During the trial, the court was told the indigenous Maori family believed Moses had been possessed by demons after two family members stole a concrete lion statue from outside a hotel.
In his closing address prosecutor Grant Burston said that "fatal reasoning" and "utter hysteria" had led to the death of Moses, a mother of two.
The prosecution accepted that the family believed she was possessed by demons at the time of her death, he said. But the trial was "not about an inquiry into whether demons or spirits or makutu exist — this is all about whether the accused are guilty of the manslaughter of Janet Moses."
What the family thought was a curse, or makutu, was a misinterpretation of an emerging mental illness, with the situation evolving into a "supernatural battle that needed to be fought" and that ended with "tragic consequences."
"This case is so bizarre, so outside the normal range of experience to most of us here," he told the court.
Defense lawyer Paul Paino said Moses had wanted the family she loved, respected and trusted to help cure her of what she believed was demonic possession.
"The family has a process of ridding themselves of evil spirits that had been done for generations and generations," beliefs that dated from pre-European times, Paino told the court.
The five found guilty remained free on bail until sentencing on Aug. 14. They face prison sentences of up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge.
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