A Northland man accused of murdering a neighbour has pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of manslaughter midway through his High Court trial.

The guilty plea by Paul Edward Harris, 51, was entered in the High Court at Whangarei yesterday after closed-door discussions between Justice John Faire, Crown, and the defence lawyers on Thursday.

Prior to yesterday's plea, Harris was facing one charge of murder and a three-week trial before a jury of six women, six men began last week. He killed Joseph Rowland Keogh near Kaitaia on April 11 last year by stabbing him with a knife while Mr Keogh was out possum hunting at night with family members.

The jury was called into court yesterday for Justice Faire to explain to them the significant development before discharging them. He said such a turn of events was not uncommon as unforeseen matters did arise during trials.


"I don't want you to feel your time has been wasted. It has not. We wouldn't have reached this point if the trial hadn't started."

Justice Faire convicted Harris and remanded him in custody for sentencing on July 22. He also ordered a pre-sentence report.

Harris was given a mandatory three strikes warning, meaning if he is convicted of an offence again he will serve the full sentence, unless the court considers it would be manifestly unjust.

The Crown case at trial was Harris stabbed Keogh while trying to wrench a slug gun Keogh was using to shoot possums. To hide his crime, the Crown said Harris removed a number of firearms from a safe and transferred them to a shed, ripped out CCTV recording equipment and hid it in grass under an animal shelter.

Mr Keogh was rushed to Kaitaia Hospital in an unconscious state and died later that evening. The knife went 10-15cm into his body and through his heart.