A man accused of multiple charges over the death of a Ngaruawahia man found bound and dead at McLaren Falls took no part in the assault which caused his death and was not at the scene when a plan was hatched to dispose of the body, his lawyer says.
Defence counsel Mike McIvor delivered his closing submissions for his client Christopher Ramia Smith, who denies charges of manslaughter, kidnapping and conspiring to defeat the course of justice after Mitchell Paterson's body was found at McLaren Falls during the early hours of July 13 last year.
McIvor told the jury in the High Court at Hamilton this morning that the kidnapping had already taken place by the time his client got into the car.
"We know that Paterson had been assaulted and was in a headlock before [Smith] gets into the car.
"There's no reliable evidence that when he got into the car that Smith intended to assault Paterson. He got in to make sure that everyone got to Pohutukawa safely."
The court earlier heard how Paterson was lured into a vehicle on the premise of a drug deal when he was dragged in, and held in a head lock by Simon Walker which would ultimately kill him. Walker has already admitted causing Paterson's death. Paterson was thrown off the McLaren Falls bridge more than 24 hours later.
Smith is on trial with co-accused Leon Colin Wilson, 49, and Chloe Kerridge, who deny various charges.
McIvor submitted that Paterson was unconscious "at least" by the time his client got into the back of a car with Walker, and reminded them of pathologist's evidence that someone can die of neck compression with seconds.
"The situation was under control by Walker. Walker didn't need any assistance."
As for Crown allegations that Smith got in and sat on Paterson's legs, McIvor said there was no proof that happened. Instead, his client had told police in his DVD interview that he wouldn't have been able to get in the car if he was sitting on his legs, due to his size.
As for the conspiracy, he said Smith's sister was the partner of Wilson and she had always lived in the house. He would often visit his sister as he looked her children.
He said after they arrived at the Pohutukawa Dr house, Smith was only in the garage for five minutes, before taking 10 minutes to have a smoke outside. He then left about five minutes later.
He said Smith never helped carry Paterson out of the car and into the garage.
The discussion about what to do with the body took place after his client left, he told the jury.
He added there was "insufficient evidence" that his client was involved in either the kidnapping, manslaughter or any conspiracy to defeat justice.
Roger Laybourn, lawyer for Leon Wilson, known as Crash, said the manslaughter charge failed at the first hurdle as the plan was for Paterson to be brought to his client's house so that he could talk to him.
The Crown's key witness, Dylan Boyle, who has already been sentenced for his part in the attack, also testified that he never heard Wilson talk of carrying out any "violence, detention or kidnapping" of Paterson; three key factors in the Crown getting a conviction for the charge, he said.
"Boyle's evidence is very clear. They were talking about arranging for Wilson to speak to Paterson only."
He also reminded them of Boyle's testimony in which he said he turned around to look into the back seat prior to Smith getting in and noticing Paterson looked unconscious.
He said his client wasn't in the car at the time Paterson was attacked by Walker and when it stopped minutes later, suggested he was likely already dead.
"By the time [Boyle] stops ... I think there's strong evidence that Mr Paterson was probably dead. The choke hold had probably been in force for two or three minutes."
On both the kidnapping and manslaughter charges, the only common intention formed to bring Paterson to his house, was to talk to him.
Laybourn described Paterson that night as being "a mild irritant" in his client's life.
"And he just wanted to say 'pull your head in, sunshine'."
He said unlike Walker, who rummaged through Paterson's pockets as he lay dead on the concrete, Wilson wrapped Paterson in tarpaulin, "to show him some dignity" before making everyone stand and perform a karakia.
Rob Weir, defence lawyer for Kerridge, who denies charges of kidnapping and conspiring to defeat the course of justice, said Boyle's evidence wasn't reliable.
Weir told the jury for someone to be guilty of kidnapping, or a party to the crime, they had to be involved to assist or in fact assist.
Kerridge denied uttering the words "drive, drive", in evidence from Boyle, when Walker pulled Paterson into the car and began struggling with him and put him in a head lock.
"Simply, that's not evidence of Kerridge either assisting the kidnapping or intending for there to be a kidnapping."
Weir said his client did not know why they were going to the Mill Lane apartment, where Paterson was ultimately kidnapped from.
In her evidence, Kerridge, who was a front seat passenger in the car, said it was Walker who told Boyle to "drive" back to Pohutukawa Dr, not her.
"She just happened to be in the car, something happens, Mr Boyle drives off and she … can't be held at that very, very high level, beyond reasonable doubt, of being responsible for the kidnapping."
Weir also asked the jury to consider the timing of her being charged, some 10 months after the death, in May this year, and even longer on the kidnapping charge.
He suggested that Boyle received "in essence a benefit in his entering of the pleas" by police.
Boyle had one of his three charges, manslaughter, dropped and was given extra discount at sentencing for being co-operative with police and their investigation.
"He has received a benefit from his pleas … it could be considered, in the circumstances, an arrangement. You must be very careful in assessing the reliability of Mr Boyle's evidence concerning Ms Kerridge … to 'drive'."
As for texts Kerridge sent to Boyle about 3.40am, about an hour after Paterson's death, Weir told the jury they had to be sure that an agreement had been formed to dispose of his body.
"There's nothing to suggest … that Ms Kerridge knew that Mr Paterson was dead.
"It's a whole different situation when you realise someone is dead."
Justice Paul Davison will deliver his summing up on Friday morning before the jury is sent away to begin deliberations.
Five others charged over his death have either admitted their roles or already been sentenced:
• Kyra Betteridge, 29, was jailed for 21 months on charges of conspiring to defeat the course of justice and interfering with human remains.
• James Lee Green, 27, was jailed for two years on charges of conspiring to defeat the course of justice, interfering with human remains and driving while disqualified.
• Dylan Ken Brian Boyle, 21, was sentenced to 9 months' home detention on charges of kidnapping and conspiring to defeat the course of justice.
• Simon Peter Walker, 36, and Grant Wickens, 33, are still awaiting sentence on several charges including kidnapping and interfering with human remains.