For just over six weeks a jury heard evidence in a trial outlining the biggest importation of methamphetamine in New Zealand but it took them less than six hours to find two people guilty of importing the drug and being part of a organised criminal group.
The jury of eight women and four men at the High Court in Whangārei were yesterday unanimous in finding Stevie Norua Cullen, 36, and Selaima Fakaosilea, 30, guilty of importing methamphetamine and participating in an organised criminal group — charges which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Justice Christine Gordon convicted Cullen and Fakaosilea and remanded them in custody until July 12 when they will return to the High Court at Whangārei for sentencing.
Before releasing the jury Justice Gordon thanked the members on behalf of the court and the community for their time. When they were first chosen they were told the trial would last up to five weeks but in fact it had been completed during the seventh week.
"This has intruded into your work commitments and for all of you your personal lives," Justice Gordon said.
The jury retired on Monday at 2pm to consider their verdicts and were released at 5pm. Yesterday they returned at 9.30am and indicated they were ready to deliver their results at 11.15am.
Members of both Cullen and Fakaosilea's family were in the public gallery, with some in tears as the guilty verdicts were delivered.
As Fakaosilea was escorted from the dock she waved to her family and said "I love you" as she was led away.
Justice Gordon said sentencing would be in Whangārei because there was huge public interest in the case within the area. Six people have already pleaded guilty in relation to the operation and have been sentenced including Ulakai Fakaosilea, Selaima Fakaosilea's brother.
During the trial the court heard how police recovered 501kg of methamphetamine on June 19, 2016, some of it buried in dunes on Ninety Mile Beach, but most — 448kg — from a campervan at Totara North.
With the 52kg of meth found buried in the sand dunes the haul had an estimated street value of almost half a billion dollars.
Cullen, who took the stand, told the court he thought he was on a trip to scatter his friend's ashes at sea. He said he knew nothing of a drug importation and was not involved in an organised criminal group.
The Crown said Cullen had full knowledge of what was happening and was responsible for logistical tasks relating to importing the drugs.
Those tasks included hiring hotel rooms and being present and participating in meetings when plans were discussed. He was also involved in a failed launch on June 9, 2016.
Evidence was produced that Cullen researched places to launch a boat, liaised with Far North locals and was present when the boat with methamphetamine on board landed on the beach.
Fakaosilea chose not to take the stand during the trial and her defence was she was not in Northland when the drugs came ashore and she had no knowledge of the drugs or their importation.
The Crown said Fakaosilea had an embedded role in the criminal group and had rolled up her sleeves and got involved by organising hire vehicles, the transporting of two Asian men to the Far North and satellite phones.