Harris pleads guilty to manslaughter

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Police investigating the murder of 29-year-old Joseph Rowland Keogh who suffered fatal injuries in Kaitaia. Photo / Peter Jackson
Police investigating the murder of 29-year-old Joseph Rowland Keogh who suffered fatal injuries in Kaitaia. Photo / Peter Jackson

The 51-year-old Kaitaia man accused of murdering 29-year-old Joseph Rowland Keogh on April 11 last year has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Paul Edward Harris entered the plea in the High Court at Whangarei last week after closed-door discussions between Justice John Faire, the Crown and defence lawyers, mid-way through what was to have been a three-week trial for murder.

Harris killed Mr Keogh by stabbing him with a knife while the victim was hunting possums with his children and an adult companion.

The jury of six men and six women was called into court on Thursday for Justice Faire to explain what had happened, before discharging them. He said such a turn of events was not uncommon, as unforeseen matters did arise during trials.

"I don't want you to feel your time has been wasted. It has not. We wouldn't have reached this point if the trial hadn't started," he said.

Justice Faire convicted Harris and remanded him in custody for sentencing on July 22. He also ordered a pre-sentence report.

Harris was given a mandatory three strikes warning, meaning if he is convicted of a qualifying offence in the future he will serve the full sentence, without parole, unless the court considered that that would be manifestly unjust.

The Crown case was that Harris stabbed Mr Keogh while trying to wrench a slug gun the victim had been using to shoot possums from his grasp. The prosecution alleged that he had tried to conceal his crime by removing a number of firearms from a safe and transferring them to a shed, ripping out CCTV recording equipment and hiding it in grass under an animal shelter, and changing the clothes he had been wearing.

Mr Keogh was driven to Kaitaia Hospital, unconscious and unresponsive, and died there later that evening. The jury had heard that the knife, which was never found, had travelled 10-15cm into his body and through his heart.

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