Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Dustin La Mont trial: Man said he 'felt his friend die'

Dustin La Mont appears in the Auckland High Court on murder charges. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Dustin La Mont appears in the Auckland High Court on murder charges. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The man who survived being allegedly stabbed by Dustin La Mont says he felt his best friend die, a court has been told.

After Nathan Pukeroa was stabbed in the neck, Devaray-Junior Heremia Cole-Kurvaji didn't realise what happened until he heard the blood gurgling from his friend's neck.

Cole-Kurvaji detailed the last moments of Pukeroa's life as he gave evidence during La Mont's trial at the High Court at Auckland. The 26-year-old has been charged with murder and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm on December 2 in Mt Albert.
His defence says he was acting in self defence.

The witness told the court how the night of the attacks he was socialising at 21 Renton Rd where Pukeroa was staying with family.

The Crown alleges La Mont, who lived next door to that house, grew increasingly angry and frustrated at the property over the fence which was associated with the Mongrel Mob and the attacks were a "crescendo" of 21 months of complaints to police, noise control, animal control, Crimestoppers, his and their landlords.

Cole-Kurvaji said that night in December he had gone outside to urinate when he noticed someone looking intently at the property which struck him as suspicious.

He followed the person out to the road with Pukeroa and saw him bent over at the end of the cul-de-sac. He told the court he asked the person: "What are you up to, bro?"

When he didn't get a response, he called twice from a distance "what's in your hands, what's in your pockets?". Once calmly and the second time with more force.

The man - later established to be La Mont - replied "nothing" and appeared "oddly calm".

Cole-Kurvaji said he didn't hear La Mont warn them he had a knife and said they didn't swing at him or threaten him by saying they knew he was working with the police.

When asked by Steve Haszard about whether La Mont was acting in self defence, which is his defence, Cole-Kurvaji replied:

"Defence from what? ...There wasn't a time that he didn't have an exit."

Cole-Kurvaji said as they got closer and "got in striking range" La Mont swung at Pukeroa.

"It was like throwing a hook, a punch. He swung his arm out and hit Nathan in neck."

Thinking his friend had been punched, Cole-Kurvaji said he lent forward to swing at the man.

"The next thing I knew I'd been hit and he was running," he told the court.

Cole-Kurvaji then went to chase the man but when he turned back to check on his friend, he saw him stumbling and could hear him "gurgling, choking on his blood".

Then he slumped to the road never to get back up again.

He ran the 5m to Pukeroa and started wiping the blood coming from his mouth, nose and which was "pooling in his eyes".

"I put my hands around his neck ... my fingers sort of went into the cut underneath and that's when I knew he'd sort been stabbed in some sort of way or cut."

As he leaned over Pukeroa, knees around his ribs to try keep him on his side he noticed blood was dripping down off him and felt a cut by his right ear.

He yelled out for someone to ring an ambulance and about the time they got there, he knew his friend was dead.

"You could probably call it a Maori thing or something but I felt him die, I knew he was gone."

Cole-Kurvaji then started to feel light-headed and went to lean against a tree. He remembers the ambulance arriving then the next thing he knew he was in the hospital being given an anaesthetic so he could go into surgery.

The next night, he discharged himself from hospital so he could be with Pukeroa's family in Whangarei and he didn't want to feel like the victim of the attack which killed his best friend.

"I just wanted to be back there for them, so they had a bit of answers from me."

Cole-Kurvaji still has a scar behind his right ear but said he was "okay".

Under cross examination, defence counsel Kevin Brosnahan asked Cole-Kurvaji whether he had been completely truthful about how drunk he had been at the time of the incident.

He admitted "maybe not" after Brosnahan referred to an interview in which Cole-Kurvaji said "parts of the incident were really blurry".

"I had a buzz off the alcohol but I wouldn't say I was pretty drunk."

Earlier today, Cole-Kurvaji told the court he and Pukeroa became friends as teenagers when living around Whangarei.

They both "represented" Crips but "there wasn't a gang behind it" when they were younger and later Cole-Kurvaji joined Black Power and was a prospect at the time of the attacks.

After the attack, the witness said he "handed his colours back" because he realised anyone could be hurt or killed at any time.

"I didn't see that being in a gang was worth adding risk to my life."

The Crown alleges La Mont after the attacks set about covering up what he'd done by bleaching his clothes, disassembling the knife, shaving his beard then ditching items on his way to work the next day.

He also created a false alibi but was "painted into a corner" and eventually could no longer deny his involvement to police.

The trial continues.

- NZ Herald

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