Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Winz shootings: Russell John Tully found guilty of murder

Russell John Tully has been found guilty of murdering two Ashburton Work and Income workers.

A jury took less than six hours to establish that 49-year-old Tully was the masked gunman who stormed the Ashburton Winz centre on September 1, 2014 and shot dead receptionist Peggy Noble, 67, and case manager Susan Leigh Cleveland, 55.

He was also found guilty of attempting to murder case manager Kim Adams.

However, he has been found not guilty of attempting to murder case manager Lindy Curtis.

Tully was also found guilty on two charges of unlawful possession of a firearm.

The jury found him not guilty of setting a man trap.

Tully was remanded in custody.

He will be sentenced at 10am on April 15.

Justice Mander called for pre-sentence reports.

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Russell John Tully in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / Dean Kozanic / FairfaxNZ
Russell John Tully in the High Court at Christchurch. Photo / Dean Kozanic / FairfaxNZ

Tully, stood in the dock and surrounded by prison guards, made no reaction to the verdicts when the jury delivered its conclusions.

There were quiet gasps of relief from the packed public gallery when the first guilty verdict was read out.

Tully had denied murdering Ms Noble and Ms Cleveland, along with charges of attempting to murder Ms Curtis and Ms Adams and other charges that include two counts of unlawful possession of firearms, and one of setting a man trap.

Ms Noble's family did not wish to be interviewed after the verdicts today but they released a statement via police in which they acknowledged all of the support they have been given.

"They are thankful for the strength which each witness displayed to reach this outcome," the statement said.

"Their love goes out to all the victims affected by this tragedy."

Outside court, Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle said his main thoughts were with the families of murdered Winz employees Ms Noble and Ms Cleveland. He acknowledged the pain and suffering they have gone through, along with those who were there on the day.

"It's a relief to get to this point, to get the verdicts, but I'll always be thinking about what happened that day, on the 1st of September, the awful events in the office, and what transpired there," he said.

"It's been a very difficult thing for the organisation to experience. But we've had a result today and we're grateful for that."

There was a feeling of relief and of moving forward for the organisation and those affected, Mr Boyle said.

Brendan Boyle , Head of the Social Development Ministry , speaks outside Christchurch High Court at the conclusion of the trial of Russell John Tully. Photo / Joe Morgan
Brendan Boyle , Head of the Social Development Ministry , speaks outside Christchurch High Court at the conclusion of the trial of Russell John Tully. Photo / Joe Morgan

He also thanked the hard work of the police, Crown and counsel assisting the court in what was a "difficult and challenging case".

Asked whether the ministry could have done more to keep their staff safe, Mr Boyle said:
"We have gone through that really diligently. Just after the event we had an independent review... and they concluded that we did take all reasonable and practical steps so I am confident we had done what we needed to do.

"As you have seen through this case, the events that transpired that day were extreme - they were a very well motivated individual who was armed with a very dangerous weapon."

It had been extremely difficult for the staff who survived the shootings and gave testimony during the two week trial, Mr Boyle said.

"For each of them they saw that CCTV footage for the first time when they were on the stand, so it was a very difficult thing for them to go through, but I also saw an incredible amount of bravery and courage.

"When they stood up there they were anxious that story was told and that evidence was given. They did a tremendous job. I'm incredibly proud of them."

The Public Service Association says its members will be relieved to hear Tully has been found guilty of double-murder.

National Secretary Glenn Barclay says it's a sobering day for the union and its members, particularly those at the Ashburton Winz office.

"This was a shocking and cowardly attack which resulted in the deaths of two respected employees and injuries to a number of others," he said.

"Today's verdict won't bring back the people who've been lost through this terrible tragedy, but it will help their families, friends and colleagues come to terms with what happened.

"All workers have the right to carry out their jobs in safety without fear of their lives, and we believe the High Court has acknowledged that right today."

He invited any PSA member who has been affected by today's verdict to come to them for support.

Evidence "overwhelming"

Identification of the shooter has been key to the High Court double-murder trial in Christchurch over the past fortnight.

Prosecutor Mark Zarifeh yesterday said Crown evidence proving that Tully is the killer is "overwhelming".

Counsel assisting the court, Jame Rapley in his closing address yesterday said the Crown's case casts doubt and raises uncertainty over whether it has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Tully was the lone gunman.

The jury must put aside any feelings of prejudice or sympathy for the victims of the horrific shooting, Justice Cameron Mander said in his summing up.

Justice Mander asked the jury to remain unaffected by emotion in going about their task in an objective and dispassionate manner.

The trial of Russell John Tully in the High Court in Christchurch was before Justice Mander. Photo / John Kirk-Anderson / Fairfax NZ
The trial of Russell John Tully in the High Court in Christchurch was before Justice Mander. Photo / John Kirk-Anderson / Fairfax NZ

The fact that Tully has been restrained and accompanied in court by Corrections officers is "quite normal", the judge said, and instructed the jury not to read anything into the security measures taken during the trial.

Tully has not been present in court for the majority of the trial. It wasn't until day two that the jury first saw him. He has twice been removed from the courtroom after outbursts before the jury.

Justice Mander said Tully's absence from the trial was "unusual" but not unheard of.
The law allows for a trial to proceed in the absence of the defendant, the jury was told.

The judge deeemed it was appropriate and in the interests of justice to proceed with Tully being in court, although it was "not a step that has been taken lightly".

He asked the jury not to speculate as to why he was absent for long periods.
"His absence must not be held againt him."

The jury must not make any adverse inference from Tully's outbursts, the judge said, adding that they must focus solely on the evidence.

Tully has not been represented by a lawyer during the trial, but experienced criminal lawyers, James Rapley and Phil Shamy have been in court as counsel assisting.

Counsel assisting Mr Rapley earllier said there were features of the Crown case that have not been satisfactorily answered.

Some points cast doubt and raise uncertainty and Mr Rapley said that if the jury is left feeling unsure, then they must find Tully not guilty.

Amicus Curiae James Rapley giving a closing address to jury. Pool Photo / Kirk Hargreaves
Amicus Curiae James Rapley giving a closing address to jury. Pool Photo / Kirk Hargreaves

Mr Rapley accepted that the evidence in the trial was "at times chilling" and seeing the CCTV footage from inside the Winz office was "unnerving.

But he asked the jury to remove any feelings of sympathy or prejudice as it considers its verdict.

When they go into the jury room to deliberate he urged them to "robustly debate the matter, listen to each other, analyse and scrutinise the evidence, and go into the jury room with a clear, calm and cool head".

Crown Prosecutor Mr Zarifeh described the Crown's arguments as amounting to "an extremely strong circumstantial case", with a lot of strands of evidence all woven together that lead to the "inescapable conclusion" that Tully is guilty of the shooting spree.

The killer must have had a "motive or grudge" against Winz or Winz staff in Ashburton to carry out the shootings, Mr Zarifeh said. It would be "nonsensical" to suggest otherwise, he added.

The evidence suggests that only Tully would have had that deadly grudge with Ashburton Winz staff, Mr Zarifeh said.

CCTV from various shops and businesses around Ashburton show the movements of a cyclist in a green jacket with a distinctive white stripe, black helmet and backpack before he chains his black mountain bike up outside the Cass St Winz office at around 9.50am that day.

The man wearing the same clothes is then seen on security cameras inside the Winz office, firing a gun at staff.

Mr Zarifeh told the jury that there is evidence the defendant Tully was seen wearing that "distinctive" green jacket both before the shootings, in the moments afterwards, and when he was apprehended by armed police hiding beneath a thick macrocarpa hedge in a nearby farmer's field seven-and-a-half hours later.

"Why is he hiding inside a hedge? If he had done nothing wrong, why is he hiding?" Mr Zarifeh asked the jury.

"The answer is simple - he's hiding because he is trying to escape after a shooting and he knows that police are looking for him."

An 'inX' sticker, matching ones that the Crown says Tully labelled his possessions with, was found on a spent shell casing at the murder scene, which Mr Zarifeh said is a "clear link" between the accused Tully and scene.

He also highlighted the evidence of forensic scientist and experienced DNA analysis expert Lisa Melia who told the jury that a bike helmet left outside the Winz office by the fleeing gunman had DNA with "extremely strong" scientific evidence linking it to Tully.

The shooter "could only have been" Tully and it would be "ludicrous" to suggest the evidence points to anyone else, Mr Zarifeh concluded.

The victims

Peggy Noble / Supplied
Peggy Noble / Supplied

Peggy Turuhira Noble
Age: 67
WINZ role: Receptionist
Shooting: Blasted from almost point blank range as she sat at her reception desk. Her injuries were unsurvivable.

Susan Cleveland known as Leigh. Photo / Supplied
Susan Cleveland known as Leigh. Photo / Supplied

Susan Leigh Cleveland
Age: 55
WINZ role: Case manager
Shooting: Begged for her life before gunman shot her. On CCTV footage, gunman appears to leave before returning to fire two more shots at her, including one fatal solid lead shot.

Lindy Louise Curtis
Age: 44
WINZ role: Case manager
Shooting: Gunman spots her huddling under a desk, and quickly fires at her. She reflexively lifts her left leg which took the blast and saved her life.

Kim Elizabeth Adams
WINZ role: Case manager
Shooting: Spots gunman entering open plan office after hearing "explosion" at reception. Gunman fires a shot that whizzes past her head as she runs outside to safety.

Other attacks on WINZ offices around New Zealand

November 1999: A man went berserk with a wooden club in the Orewa office, smashing six plate-glass windows, a computer and a sign, and sending staff scrambling for cover. No one was hurt. The man faced charges of intentional damage.

January 2001: A 33-year-old man drove a car through the front window of the Flaxmere office and attacked computers and furniture in what was said to be the worst attack on the agency up to that date. He was charged with five offences.

August 2002: A man used a bayonet and a taiaha to smash 20 computers at the Porirua office, telling staff to back away from their desks. The man, Michael Anstis, who was 28 at the time, was jailed for two and a half years for aggravated robbery and criminal damage.

November 2003: A 47-year-old man pulled a knife on staff at an office in Dixon St, Wellington. He was charged with assaulting a staff member, possession of an offensive weapon and damaging a computer.

February 2005: Two staff in the Hamilton East office were injured by a knife-wielding woman. A female employee was stabbed in the neck and shoulder and another worker was cut while trying to help. This incident prompted a major security review and security guards have since been posted outside all Work and Income offices.

September 2012: 59-year-old invalid beneficiary Sam Kuha smashed two windows at the Kaikohe office with a sledgehammer and went on hunger strike after being told he could not get an emergency food grant unless he saw a budgeter and waited three weeks for an appointment. He ended his hunger strike 30 days later when Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agreed to meet him. He agreed to pay a $480 bill for repairing the window and was convicted and discharged.

- NZ Herald

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