WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Five New Zealanders who were convicted of manslaughter for the drowning death of their niece in an exorcism ceremony avoided jail terms Friday.
The five siblings were sentenced instead to community service. In 2007, Janet Moses, 22, died after her aunts and an uncle poured water in her nose and mouth for several days in a bid to drive out an evil spirit, or makutu in Maori, the indigenous language of New Zealand.
They were convicted in June of manslaughter by a New Zealand High Court.
Justice Simon France said Friday that the five had tried to help their niece and had not intended harm.
"The accused did what they genuinely thought was right," France said. "I have no doubt they believed that she was possessed by makutu and were trying to help."
Prosecutors said the victim might have been mentally ill and that her family could have mistaken her symptoms for a curse.
The brother and four sisters aged 43 to 53, are all from the town of Wainuiomata near the capital Wellington.