Kawakawa farmer Paul McIntyre walked from Kaikohe Court a free man yesterday after 2 1/2 years defending charges laid against him for shooting and injuring an intruder he caught trying to steal his farm bike one night in October 2002.
"Relief" was his one initial word minutes after a judge, in a rare legal move, directed a jury to find Mr McIntyre not guilty on a second charge associated with the incident, without the accused standing trial.
Mr McIntyre had already been cleared on a principal charge when a Kaikohe jury last year found him not guilty of shooting and injuring Moerewa man Sam Hati with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
Hati had surgery in Auckland Hospital for a shotgun wound to his neck as a result of the attempted theft, which failed when he and two other men were caught by Mr McIntyre trying to load the farmer's quad bike onto their vehicle.
But that jury could not agree on a verdict on the second charge, laid under the Arms Act, that Mr McIntyre discharged a shotgun without reasonable cause in a manner likely to endanger the safety of any person.
A new jury was empanelled to hear evidence on this charge this week.
Yesterday, however, after hearing nearly two days of detailed pre-trial argument led by Mr McIntyre's defence counsel Barry Hart of Auckland and Antony Shaw of Wellington, Judge Michael Lance said he would direct the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty before the trial started.
"On the face of it, that might sound odd," he said.
"But the provision [in law] is there and, although not often exercised, I have come to the conclusion ... that it is appropriate I do so in this case," he told the jury, which had been absent during the pre-trial argument.
In directing the jury's verdict, Judge Lance said it did not stop either the Crown or the defence from challenging his decision and either could have his ruling tested in a superior court.
The jury retired briefly before returning with a not guilty verdict.
Judge Lance reserved the reasons for his decision but told counsel he would deliver them as soon as he could.
Details of the pre-trial arguments leading to the judge's ruling remain suppressed.
Outside the court, Mr McIntyre, who still farms his isolated Whangae cattle property near Kawakawa, said the period since his arrest in October 2002, had been stressful for all his family.
"We all hope for a quick ending to a tedious problem," he said.
There was still a possibility he might lose his gun licence.
Mr McIntyre thanked his family and supporters who had been at his court hearings "from day one" and said he was grateful as well to people who had donated money to Northland Federated Farmers to help pay his defence costs.
He had "no problems" with the justice system but would not comment on the effect of the court's decision on other farmers who might find themselves in similar situations to his.
Mr Hart said the decision to direct the jury before a trial started was very rare but it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the issues.
He believed, however, that the decision was appropriate.
Crown prosecutor Kim Thomas would not say whether Judge Lance's decision might be taken further and referred to the Crown Law Office (for a possible appeal to the Court of Appeal).
He said that decision would be made by his superiors.
* Paul McIntyre was found not guilty of shooting and injuring Moerewa man Sam Hati with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
* Hati suffered a neck wound when Mr McIntyre caught him and two other men trying to steal a quad bike in October 2002.
* Mr McIntyre was yesterday found not guilty of discharging a shotgun without reasonable cause in a manner likely to endanger the safety of any person.