The morning Cissy Chen went missing she allegedly told a close friend that if she died her partner of eight years would be the killer.
Yesterday in the High Court at Auckland a jury acquitted that man - Yun Qing "Jack" Liu - of murder, having never heard the statement.
Midway through the seven-week trial Justice Sarah Katz ruled "with some reluctance" the testimony of Ms Chen's friend Cindy Chin would be too prejudicial.
"The statement could almost be seen as a premonition by Ms Chen of her own death, and an accusation from beyond the grave as to who is responsible," the judge said. "There would inevitably be a huge temptation [for the jury] to rely on the statement for truth of its contents, perhaps even subconsciously."
Throughout the trial the Crown attempted to paint the picture of a relationship in turmoil, characterised by the victim planning to cut the 58-year-old Mr Liu out of her will in favour of her family in China.
Prosecutor Brian Dickey said the defendant uncovered his partner's plans on the day she went missing.
He argued during an admissibility hearing to include the friend's evidence that Ms Chen's words on the morning of her disappearance were "the sharpest, best and most contemporaneous" evidence of the state of a relationship, which he said was unstable and becoming dangerous.
On the morning of November 5, 2012, Ms Chen, a former North Shore accountant, called her friend and ex-workmate Ms Chin to discuss finding a lawyer to help her with her will.
Ms Chin said it was a good idea and spontaneously gave the example of Mr Liu poisoning her.
Ms Chen allegedly replied, "Cindy, if one day I am dying [if I die], you please quickly call the police and Jack, he's the one who kill me."
Ms Chin asked
what she meant but the victim said she had to go.
Less than 12 hours later Mr Liu called the police to tell them his wife was missing after she had gone for a walk to Long Bay. She was not seen again until 16 months later when her remains were found in a bushy reserve 11km away from the couple's Torbay property.
Mr Liu's lawyer, Michael Kan, suggested that Ms Chin's recall of the conversation may have been inaccurate, that her translation of the conversation may be incorrect, that she may have colluded with members of the victim's family before making a police statement, and that she bore some animosity towards Mr Liu. But it was his argument about the "immensely" prejudicial nature of the evidence that swayed Justice Katz.
"I have concluded that the reverberating clang of the deceased's accusatory words, made in such close proximity to her disappearance, would drown out all weaker sounds in this case," she said.
In summing up, the judge said that to find Mr Liu guilty the jury would have to make a series of inferences.
CCTV showing Mr Liu turning left and heading south down Beach Rd, rather than right towards Long Bay where his wife had gone walking, was put forward as proof he was dumping her body at the Totaravale reserve.
But defence counsel argued there was nothing concrete that put Mr Liu at the dump site, nothing that proved he attacked Ms Chen and nothing to say when or where - the jury agreed.
After the verdict was read out and Justice Katz formally discharged him, Mr Liu strode out of the dock, bowed to the judge and walked out leaving Ms Chen's family shaking their heads.
Outside court, her brother Philip, who had spent every day watching the trial with his brother Peter, said he was heartbroken.
"This result is very unfair to my sister," Mr Chen said.
Police said they had not yet decided whether they would reopen the case but the victim's brother said he was not pushing for that to happen.
Mr Chen said there was only one man with motive and opportunity.
• 4 November 2012
Cissy Chen and partner Yun Qing "Jack" Liu have lunch with Jack's son and his fiance. Cissy calls her brother to talk about changing her will after an argument with Jack, according to brother's evidence.
• 5 November 2012 10am
Cissy allegedly tells her friend Cindy Chin that if she died, Jack would be the killer.
Cissy arrives home from work.
Jack arrives home from work, according to the Crown.
Cissy makes a call to a law firm which is unanswered.
Cissy goes for a walk, according to Jack.
Defence witness says they see Cissy out walking
Unanswered call from the couple's landline to Cissy's brother Philip.
Cissy's friend Jenny calls and Jack says Cissy is out.
Jack's car seen on CCTV turning south.
Jack's car seen on CCTV returning.
Jack calls Jenny who says she advised him to call police.
Jack calls police.
• 24 March 2014
Cissy's body is found in Trias Reserve, 11km from the couple's Torbay home.
• 9 April 2014
Jack Liu is charged with murder.