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New Zealand sparks outrage, defends decision

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand's national Olympic
committee on Tuesday defended its decision to send to the Athens
Games a boxer convicted of killing his infant daughter.

Soulan Pownceby served four years in jail beginning in 1995 for
the manslaughter of his 5-month-old child. Since his release, he
had seven more convictions, most recently for an assault on a woman
four years ago.

Women's groups and organizations campaigning against domestic
violence have denounced the light-heavyweight's selection as New
Zealand's sole boxing representative at the Athens Games in August.

Women's Refuge, which provides safe houses and counseling to
battered women and children, described Pownceby's selection as
"shocking, shameful and appalling."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke entered the debate
Tuesday, calling on Pownceby to "make a total public declaration
of what he's done and talk about a resolve to absolutely put it
behind him."

Clarke was responding to reporters' questions and to television
news shows suggesting Pownceby's latest conviction was more recent
than 2000.

Pownceby told a television show Tuesday he was sorry for his
actions.

"I can only go forward, I can't change the past … I wish I
could," he said. "Now I'm just trying to be the very best person
I can be."

Pownceby's daughter, Jeanette, had severe head injuries and
internal bruising, consistent with a beating. Pownceby first
claimed he dropped the baby in the shower, then said she fell on
the wooden arm of a sofa.

He was charged with murder but was found not guilty on that
charge.

In a case in the United States with a similar charge, synchronized swimmer
Tammy Crow was charged with vehicular manslaughter in two deaths
and pleaded no contest. She received a 90-day jail term but the
judge postponed the sentence until October so she could go to
Athens. U.S. Olympic officials said they could find no reason to
bar her from competing.

New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary-general Barry Maister
said he made a thorough review of Pownceby's past before endorsing
his nomination for selection, which was put forward by national
boxing authorities. Maister said committee members interviewed
Pownceby on several occasions and spoke to police, who raised no
objections to his inclusion on New Zealand's Olympic team.

"We've carried out what we think is a very thorough
investigation," Maister said.

Later Tuesday, the New Zealand Boxing Association said it would
stick with its original decision following a conference call of its
members. Chairman Keith Walker said the association unanimously
agreed to maintain Pownceby's nomination.

"This puts the matter to rest as far as Boxing New Zealand is
concerned," he said.

Walker previously defended the selection, saying Pownceby
represented New Zealand on three occasions on which his behavior
had been exemplary.

"He has performed well and has conducted himself in the manner
we expect our representatives to do," Walker said. "There is no
reason to doubt he won't once again perform in that way."

Sheryl Hann, spokeswoman for Women's Refuge, said her
organization had written to the Olympic committee to express
outrage at Pownceby's selection.

"Our experience is that men who change take a long time to do
it, because it takes a whole lot of work on their part to change
from being an abusive person to being a nonviolent person," she
said.

"I don't think four years since his last conviction is enough
time for him to show that he's turned his life around."