Kumara killer jailed


A 2009 Father’s Day celebration that escalated into violence and ended with a killing had its final act today, when Tony John Harris was sentenced in the High Court at Greymouth to three and a half years’ jail for the manslaughter of Shane Douglas Bensemann.
A Greymouth jury trial last October found Harris, 57, guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Bensemann, 42, his friend and tenant, who died of a stab wound to the heart. The jury had found him not guilty of murder.
Mr Bensemann had been renting Harris’s house in Kumara. Harris was living in Reefton at the time.
He drove to Kumara on Sepember 7, 2009, to celebrate Father’s Day with another friend, Neil Balderstone.
Both men then went to Mr Bensemann’s house, where they consumed homebrew whisky and smoked cannabis before engaging in play fighting with martial arts moves. Eventually, the fighting got out of control and Mr Bensemann became annoying, knocking Mr Balderstone’s hat off and pushing Harris over.
Mr Bensemann had earlier brought a knife from the kitchen to demonstrate his sharpening skills by shaving the hairs on his forearm.
When he resumed the attack on Mr Balderstone, Harris picked up the knife and told him to back off, but Mr Bensemann then moved in on him and in the ensuing struggle he was stabbed twice, once through the bicep of the left arm and then in the heart.
Crown prosecutor Phillipa Curry said the fact that Harris used the knife twice proved his actions were intentional, while defence counsel Jonathon Eaton said the wounds were inflicted within a matter of seconds, when Harris and Balderstone had been under threat.
Before sentencing this morning, Harris heard five victim impact statements.
Mr Bensemann’s mother said: “You have taken away a son, father, brother and grandfather, whose wish to reconcile with his family has been brutally destroyed.”
A daughter regretted that her son would never get to meet his grandfather and that she, having argued with him, would never get a chance to apologise and clear the air, while Mr Bensemann’s former partner told Harris that he had “altered the future” for several families.
“I blame you for picking up the knife and using it. I wish you all that you deserve, and so much more.”
However, Justice Wild also allowed Harris’s daughter, Stacey, to speak on his behalf. She told the court that Harris was a “fantastic grandfather, father, husband and friend”.
“He never put himself first and was always helping the needy, never judging, just accepting and offering a helping hand.”
Justice Wild said he accepted that Harris’s remorse had been immediate and genuine but, like the jury, he could not overlook the fact that the knife had been used twice and the sentence had to reflect the “sanctity of life”.
He set a starting point of five years but, taking into account that Harris had been on restrictive bail for almost 18 months, reduced it by that amount.