Father accused of murdering two-year-old on trial

Tewi Daniel Savage is on trial in the High Court at Hamilton accused of murdering his two year old daughter. Photo: Mark Taylor/Stuff

Angry over a relationship break-up, Tewi Daniel Savage stripped off his clothes and took his two year old daughter into a Bay of Plenty river where she was later found dead a court has heard.

Savage, 34, was discovered naked in the blackberry bushes saying he'd "f..... up" upstream from where his daughter Arnica Savage's body was found snagged in trees in the Rangitaiki River in July 2018. 

Savage is currently on trial in the High Court at Hamilton after pleading not guilty to the murder of his two-year-old daughter. 

During opening addresses before Justice Paul Davison, defence counsel Shane Tait said Savage wasn't thinking like a "reasonable person" that night.

He was not responsible for his daughter's drowning and the defence would show that he was insane or suffering mental impairment at the time.

Crown Prosecutor Richard Jenson told the jury of four men and eight women that Savage was in turmoil over the separation with his estranged partner and walked down to the river where he decided to "end it all". 

He took off his clothes, grabbed Arnica and took her into the river where she was asphyxiated - either by constricting her breathing, being held under the water or simply by letting her go into the fast flowing chilly waters.

Savage, an electrician, and Arnica's mother, Santana Moses, had been together for 14 years and had five children together. Arnica was the second youngest. 

The pair had separated and Moses was living in Whakatane and in the early stages of a new relationship. The pair had shared custody of the children.

In the days leading up to July 1, Savage had found out about the new relationship and was struggling to cope.

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 1 the pair, along with Savage's parents, gathered for a planned family meeting to discuss the separation with the children.

Savage told Moses he was going to "earn her heart back". But she told him she didn't want him to, Jenson said. 

Savage became angry and frustrated, saying he was not afraid to hurt her.

His mother told him to go for a walk and cool off. He put Arnica in a pram, took a book and headed off towards the river. Moses left back to Whakatane. 

It was getting dark and family back at Te Mahoe village began to get worried. 

Savage's mother and two of his boys started to search. Near the river they found clothes and the push chair. 

Then they heard Savage's voice from the blackberry bushes - crying and yelling "he'd f..... up". 

"She's drowned, she's dead, I drowned her," Jenson told the jury.

Police arrived about 7pm and were taken to a maize paddock where Savage was "screaming and yelling". 

He told police he "needed to be cleansed. He knew he was in the water naked with his baby. He saw her face under the water and he went under with her. He let her go and saw her float away."

"He remembered taking her out of her push chair and running but couldn't remember if he was dragging her."

Savage said he didn't hold her under or drown her. He later told police he could not remember how his daughter got into the river and what happened before he let her float away. 

"The Crown say that he took his daughter into the river with the intention of ending her life and possibly his own as well," Jenson said.  

At 11.30pm Arnica's body was found by a local man about 2.5km downstream from where the pair are believed to have entered the river. 

Post-mortem showed her death was asphyxiation from drowning, mechanical suffocation or gagging.. 

This was a culpable homicide, Jenson said. Savage was in sole charge of Arnica, he took her into the water and was responsible for her asphyxiation. 

Jenson told the court that a defence of insanity could only be considered if Savage proved he has a disease of the mind and that it rendered him incapable of understanding the nature of his actions, or that those actions were wrong.

Tait said Savage didn't accept he was responsible for Arnica going into the river, and drowning. 

"He did not hold her under the water or allow her to float away."

The trial is set down for two weeks.

-Stuff/Phillipa Yalden.

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Posted on 11-03-2020 13:04 | By morepork

Thanks for your comment. The trouble with capital punishment is that when we get it wrong the innocent die and cannot be brought back. Execution won’t brink the toddler back so what does it actually achieve? Should justice be about "punishment"? Certainly, that is an element of it, but that is a very negative kind of justice, especially if it doesn’t deter others. History has shown that crime was no less when we had capital punishment. The real solution involves all of us in creating an environment where people learn about responsibility and the duties of parents BEFORE they have children. "Crimes of Passion" should be seen as the lapses that they are and they should be socially unacceptable, especially where children are involved. We need to make better parents and prepare our kids for parenthood. That won’t happen with negative justice.

Indeed morepork......

Posted on 10-03-2020 21:36 | By groutby

....there are no winners, but surely accountability is paramount. This is why for justice to be done and is proved, the ultimate penalty should be excuses, particularly for those who have lost their life and barely taken a breath .........


Posted on 10-03-2020 12:54 | By morepork

But there has to be responsibility and the little girl didn’t get into the water by herself. Anger and emotion, although we can all relate to them, are not reasonable grounds for claiming mental impairment. Are we all insane when we get angry? I guess it is arguable, but we know we have to learn to control those destructive emotions or deal with them, and part of becoming an adult (and parent) is being responsible for our emotions. Another tragic case where there are no winners.