Homeless man Edward Martin Townsend was a common sight around Whangārei with his two dogs he loved dearly.

But unfortunately it was his defence of his canine companions, black and white staffy-cross dog Sky and second dog Rosie, that sparked a chain of events that led to his death.

Sky was a great companion of Eddie's. Photo / Supplied
Sky was a great companion of Eddie's. Photo / Supplied

Yesterday in the Whangārei District Court a 26-year-old Raumanga man pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 52-year-old Townsend - or Eddie as he was known by most people.

Michael David Nepia was remanded on bail until August 9 for sentencing which could be delayed to allow for restorative justice to take place with relatives of Eddie.

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Eddie and his dogs were frequent visitors to a block of shops at Te Mai on Maunu Rd and on December 17 last year at 6pm that's where he was on the footpath outside a cafe.

Eddie Townsend was known by many around Whangarei.
Eddie Townsend was known by many around Whangarei.

A police summary of events said Nepia was walking his two dogs on leads towards West End Ave when the two lots of dogs became aware of each other and starting growling.

The dogs started to fight and Eddie kicked Nepia's dogs in an effort to get the dogs apart.

Nepia took offence to his dogs being kicked and threw one punch with his right fist hitting Eddie in the face. The force of the blow caused Eddie to fall backwards and hit the back of his head on the concrete footpath.

Nepia took his dogs and left.

It is unclear who raised the alarm but an ambulance arrived and St John staff treated Eddie on the side of the road. He was bleeding from the back of his head and was taken to Whangārei Hospital a short distance away where he was placed on life support.

Over the next four hours his condition deteriorated rapidly and at 1.37am on December 18 he died at the hospital.

Flowers are placed at the Te Mai shops where 52-year-old Eddie Townsend was initially assaulted, then later died in hospital.
Flowers are placed at the Te Mai shops where 52-year-old Eddie Townsend was initially assaulted, then later died in hospital.

Medical staff established he died from a severe brain bleed and had a fractured skull.

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When police interviewed Nepia, who went to the Whangārei police station on his own accord, he admitted he "lost it" with the victim when his dogs were kicked.

Nepia explained it was a needless confrontation which could have been avoided if the victim had looked after his dogs.

After Eddie's death flowers and cards marked the spot near where he died. The Whangārei community rallied and collected food and canine goodies for the two dogs which were rehomed in Kerikeri.

On December 23 a memorial service was held at the Open Arms community day centre in Whangārei, which was attended by about 100 people.

The service was run by Pastor Sonny More, from Te Whakapiripiri Encounter Church, and celebrated "the gift of Eddie". Prior to his death Eddie had been sleeping rough in an abandoned shed at Jubilee Park for at least six months.

Liz Sinclair said she first met him six years ago and the pair had spent hours talking and laughing.

"He was just an awesome, awesome guy."

Townsend's cousin, Mandy Horton, also spoke, touching on the early years of their lives. She thanked everyone who had extended their condolences and love since he died.

She also thanked those who had taken care of his two dogs.

Horton described her cousin, whom she had been in contact with "on and off" over recent years but hadn't heard from in around eight months, as a "tortured soul".

"He found a good version of himself that he ended up loving."

She said he was very caring.

"He was always others first before himself. Like others said, he had nothing but he gave so much."

Horton said she held no judgment or grievance towards the man charged with Townsend's manslaughter.

Horton said she wanted the community to extend love and kindness to the man and his family. It was overwhelming to see how many had turned up at the memorial service, she said.