A Westport gym instructor who fractured a complete stranger's left eye socket, broke his jaw and fractured a cheekbone during a drunken street fight walked free from the Greymouth District Court today through lack of evidence.
Stephen Christopher Tait was facing a jury trial on a count of causing grievous bodily harm to Michael Rowsell, at about 2am on July 24, 2011.
However, Judge Raoul Neave told the jury that he had to take the decision out of their hands.
"There is no dispute about the injuries being caused by the accused but the Crown has to prove that they were done with an intent to injure," the judge said.
"The Crown is going to ask you to reason backwards from the injuries and draw an inference that there must have been intent. But all we know is that the accused won the fight. Whether it was because he was younger, fitter and just got in a few lucky punches ... we don't know," he said, discharging Tait.
In a video interview with police, Tait had said he knocked Rowsell out with an elbow to the head.
"I remember the last blow to the left side of his face. It was with my elbow, that's the one that put him to sleep."
Tait said he was fighting to survive: "You have to fight your way out of a fight, you can't duck for cover ... the main goal of a fight is to stop the other person fighting ... but I had no intention of seriously harming anyone."
Rowsell said he had been celebrating his 30th birthday at home before going out to a hotel. He was walking home about 2am and recalled passing another man but not speaking to him.
"For some reason I turned around, and then I was on the ground," he said.
"Next thing somebody is asking me where my parents live and then I'm in my dad's car."
Tony Rowsell recalled another man (Tait) answering when he called his brother's cellphone. The man was evasive about his identity but asked where to take the injured man because he was not capable of getting home alone. The brother gave Tait his parents' address then placed a call to his father, informing him that Michael was being "dragged" home by someone.
Peter Rowsell took the call and was about to drive out in the car looking for his son, when he noticed someone in the headlights. He got out and his son fell into his arms.
"I knew straight away that it wasn't good."
He drove his son straight to hospital.
Carol Rowsell saw her son driven away and then noticed a figure (Tait) by the letterbox. She did not know who he was. It was Tait, who simply said: "If he's lost anything it's up Rintoul Street".
She looked along Rintoul Street and recovered a bloodied jacket, which she took home. About 20 minutes later Tait arrived and claimed the jacket as his own. He had been to a friend's house and showered.
She initially thought that Tait was a good samaritan who had come across her injured son and brought him home, but he later admitted that he had injured him, though he claimed he had not thrown the first punch.
"I don't want to get done for something I didn't do," Tait said.
In a video interview with police, Tait admitted that he had earlier been in an argument with a friend and was walking home from that person's house after unsuccessfully attempting to apologise to him. He said that Rowsell attacked him, saying "what the f ... are you looking at?" before charging at him.
Tait, wearing a suit coat, quickly took it off and threw it at Rowsell to distract him. They clashed, with Rowsell on top, but Tait soon got the upper hand. He could remember how the fight started and how it ended, but could not remember the rest.
"It's a bit hazy to me. I'm on top ... we're covered in blood and I have his hands pinned, but he's thrashing about and I couldn't let him go.
"Then I got a hand free and hit him, and he's unconscious making whining noises."
Tait said he then put Rowsell in the recovery position and tried to wake him. He was talking to himself, saying "wake up you f ... wit. You are lucky I'm the one you tried to fight, others would have just left you here".
He told Rowsell's parents that their son had initiated the assault but he was not going to lay charges.