Two local men who stopped to stomp out a roadside scrub fire nearly stepped on the burning body of slain Christchurch sex worker Renee Duckmanton that one man thought was a mannequin, a court heard today.
Sainey Marong, a 33-year-old originally from Gambia, is alleged to have picked up Duckmanton from Christchurch's red light district before strangling her to death, dumping her body on the side of a country road, and setting her on fire.
At a High Court trial in Christchurch, Marong denies murdering Duckmanton on or about May 14, 2016.
His defence says the evidence will be best understood through a "lens of mental imbalance".
On the second day of the trial, Duckmanton's family in the public gallery have been upset by the graphic evidence, along with CCTV footage that showed their love one's last known movements.
Rakaia resident Stewart Johnston has described coming across a grass fire on the verge of Main Rakaia Rd after dropping off some onions to a mate.
Fanned by gusty nor-west winds, Johnston feared the 1m-high flames could spread into a line of trees and so got out of his ute to try and "stomp the fire out with my boot".
But another local Max Ferris, who had just arrived at the scene, put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Whatever you do, don't take another step."
"That's when I noticed the young girl's body there," Johnston said.
Using his cellphone's torchlight, Ferris thought the body was a mannequin.
"You don't think you're going to come across a body," he said, getting upset as he gave evidence.
He described the body as being "extremely puffed up".
Ferris claims that Johnston touched Duckmanton's foot and said it "felt funny". Johnston earlier said he hadn't touched the body, saying he got within 1m of it.
A local fire brigade arrived and quickly put out the fire.
A fireman bent over and checked for a pulse and that's when Ferris says for the first time he really thought it was a body.
Police soon arrived and spoke to both men.
Earlier, the trial heard from Terry McGowan, who often acted as a minder for Duckmanton while she worked at nights.
McGowan told how he picked her up on the evening of May 14 and took her to the intersection of Peterborough/Manchester streets.
When she got in the car, she "started talking 16 to the dozen", and everything was "awesome this, awesome that", McGowan said.
After they pulled up at the red light district, she sat in the car, did her makeup, put lipstick on, brushed her hair, and "got ready for whatever she was going to do", McGowan told the court.
She left her purse behind with him, which was normal, he said.
Later, she told McGowan she was going on a job for an hour. He never saw her again.
"I just sat in the car … listened to music," McGowan said.
Asked by Crown prosecutor Pip Currie how long he would wait, he said: "I would wait until she wanted to go home."
He soon got concerned text messages from Duckmanton's boyfriend Samuel Doak.
At 11.01pm, McGowan phoned her but it went straight to voicemail. He said that by then he was also worried.
He text Doak that there was nothing they could do except wait.
McGowan waited until 2am before going home.
Yesterday, Doak claimed that Duckmanton told him she was going with the same client who had locked the car doors on her about three weeks earlier, and she had to walk home from a job.
Giving evidence today, Doak said he asked her if she was sure she felt safe.
"'Yeah yeah, I'm fine. Stop ringing because he's getting annoyed'," she allegedly told Doak.
McGowan told how he met Duckmanton one night one his way home from the cinema.
"[I] stopped and talked to her on a whim and we got on really well. She was an amazing person," he said.
The Crown says its case against Marong is "overwhelming", with DNA samples taken from Duckmanton, and also samples found where her body was dumped, allegedly belonging to Marong.
A sheep's tongue "bizarrely" found at the scene is alleged to have come from an animal that Marong helped butcher the day the sex worker went missing.
Police examinations of Marong's mobile phone, the Crown alleges, "deeply implicates" him in the murder.
Weeks before the alleged murder, the Crown says, Marong searched for what kidnappers use to make people unconscious, chloroform, and is claimed to have clicked on an article entitled, 'How to kidnap a girl: an informative guide'.
There were also multiple searches about necrophilia, including a "man having sex with dead body".
The trial, before Justice Cameron Mander, continues.