Katie Holland is the Rotorua Daily Post deputy editor

Delay again in cold case

The trial of a man accused of murdering a Turangi service station attendant in 1979 has been put on hold until Monday.

Menzies Reginald John Hallett, 72, is on trial in the High Court at Rotorua after pleading not guilty to murdering 31-year-old Rodney Tahu just after 1am on August 16, 1979.

Because of a lack of jurors the trial began a day late on Tuesday. Hallett's lawyer Paul Mabey, QC, told the court his client would not deny he killed Mr Tahu. The issue was whether it was murder or manslaughter.

It is the Crown's case Hallett became angry when Mr Tahu, who had just locked up the service station, refused to help him with oil for his car.

It's alleged Hallett, who was upset about a custody dispute, called Mr Tahu a "black b******" then shot at him twice, the second bullet hitting him in the shoulder. He then stood over a slumped Mr Tahu and shot him through the head, the Crown claim. Hallett then allegedly drove to Wellington and confessed all to his estranged wife.

About 11am yesterday Justice Ailsa Duffy told jurors they were excused until 10am Monday. She said the trial was adjourned so she could hear legal arguments from counsel.

Earlier, former Rotorua pathologist Ronald Ensor said in evidence a .22 bullet had entered Mr Tahu's head just above his left eye, causing "irreparable damage" to his brain and causing his death.

Dr Ensor, who performed the post mortem, said in his opinion it was highly likely the shot to the shoulder happened first and "the second [shot] was a finishing off job".

Michael Sullivan, a Turangi police constable at the time, told how he had shared a cup of coffee with Mr Tahu at the Shell station earlier that evening.

He said he got a call about 1.50am from Taupo police and ran the 50m from his home to the service station. There, he found a motorist trying to help Mr Tahu, who was lying in a pool of blood struggling for breath. Mr Tahu died a few hours later in Taumarunui Hospital.

Hallett was charged days later but did not stand trial as the law then meant a wife could not give evidence against her husband. After a 2006 law change the case was reopened and Hallett charged again in late 2011. Hallett's ex-wife Susan Sharpe is listed as a witness for the Crown but is yet to give evidence.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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