The trial for the suspected murder of a Hawke's Bay father has begun.

Johnnie Puna, 19, is standing trial in the High Court at Napier before Justice Helen Cull QC after pleading not guilty to the murder of Haumoana man Mark Geoffrey Beale.

A jury of eight males and four females will determine if the accused murdered 45-year-old Beale, who was found unconscious with critical injuries near his home in Haumoana at about 7am on Waitangi Day.

The father-of-two was rushed to Hawke's Bay Hospital but died the following morning as a result of significant brain injuries.

Crown prosecutor Steve Manning opened the Crown's case by telling the jury the defendant had met the Hawke's Bay father just hours before he meted out a series of fatal blows to the man's head.

The defendant, his uncle and cousin had been socialising and drinking pre-mixed alcohol at the Tukituki rivermouth that February evening, he said.


The court heard Beale, who lived on Grange Rd just several hundred metres from where he was later found, was a loner and had a long-standing problem with alcoholism.

He frequented the Tukituki rivermouth to fish and had been drinking that night when he met the group in the area.

The Crown prosecutor said at one point Puna accompanied Beale to his home to get more alcohol and, when returning to the rivermouth over a steep, limestone stock bank Beale had tripped and reached his hands out; pulling Puna down with him.

"It seems Mr Puna chose to attack Mr Beale for an innocuous and simple reason. Mr Beale accidently fell over, pulling Mr Puna to the ground and causing him to receive a minor cut to his lip."

This, Mr Manning said, was the "catalyst" to what led to his death.

In a state of anger Puna kicked Beale's face and head until the man was knocked out before waiting for him to regain conciousness to further assault him, he said.

Mr Manning said the assault was not carried out in a frenzied state but over time, with gaps between the series of kicks.

The jury heard Beale was left in a bloodied state making "gurgling noises" when the trio left the area.

A group of people in the area had queried his state but were told by Puna that he was just drunk, Mr Manning said.

He was found the next morning and taken to hospital with "unsurvivable" head injuries, the court heard.

Puna, who is represented by defence lawyers Eric Forster and Matthew Phelps, pleaded not guilty to the murder in May this year, but admitted stealing the dead man's cell phone and vaping device.

Murder carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The trial is expected to last one week, with the Crown calling 16 witnesses.