, WELLINGTON, Aug 14 – Five siblings from a New Zealand family escaped jail Friday after being found guilty of the manslaughter of their niece during an indigenous Maori exorcism ceremony.
Janet Moses, a 22-year-old mother of two, died from drowning in October 2007 after members of her extended family forced water down her throat during a ceremony to lift a curse known as a makutu.
The High Court in Wellington imposed a curfew order and work sentences on the five, ranging in age from 36 to 52, although prosecutors had sought prison sentences of up to five years.
Justice Simon France said Moses’ death did not occur because of a recognised ritual or "fanatical beliefs".
"Makutu did not kill her. She drowned," he said.
"It is undoubted that, at some stage, hysteria entered the room."
"The accused did what they genuinely thought was right. I have no doubt they believed that she was possessed by makutu and were trying to help."
The family from Wainuiomata, near Wellington, believed Moses had been possessed by demons after two family members stole a Chinese concrete lion statue from outside a hotel.
Prosecutors said Moses’ strange behaviour was caused by mental illness.
The curse-lifting ceremony at a family home started with prayers but became more intense with family members shouting "get out" and "leave her alone" in an attempt to purge the evil spirits, they said.
Those present also lent over Moses and tried to suck at her eyes in an attempt to remove the curse.
Water was then poured on Moses’ face, down her throat and into her eyes while she was restrained during the ceremony lasting several days and attended by more than 30 people.