Sean Hayde and Gregory Hart, the childhood friends who came to accuse each other of murder, have both been found responsible for killing Auckland personal trainer Wiremu Arapo.
The jury returned its verdicts after more than 17 hours of deliberation across three days at the end of a 3½-week trial in the High Court at Auckland.
Jurors found Hayde guilty of murdering Arapo and Hart guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Both were charged with murder but Justice Geoffrey Venning left the door open to manslaughter verdicts if the jurors found the threshold for murder was not met.
The men closed their eyes as the verdicts were delivered but were otherwise emotionless. Throughout the trial, the former friends of 20 years standing did not speak to or look at each other as they sat together in the dock.
They were both also found guilty of perverting the course of justice by setting Arapo’s home alight to destroy evidence of the killing on October 20, 2020.
Hayde was found guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill his former partner in the weeks before Arapo’s killing. He was found not guilty of a charge of strangling the woman. All verdicts were unanimous.
Hayde and Hart came to trial almost three years after they were arrested and charged with killing Arapo, whose charred body was found after a fire at his home in Minerva Tce, East Auckland.
The pair will be sentenced on November 24.
Part of the way through their lengthy deliberations, the jurors asked the judge for clarity about how a defendant could be liable as a party to an offence.
Justice Venning said that, even if one of the men did not deliver the fatal blow, he could still be guilty if he intentionally or deliberately participated in the assault at the same time as another who delivered the fatal strike.
“It would apply in this case that, at the time the fatal blows were inflicted on the deceased, both defendants were actively involved in the assault on him.”
The Crown claimed the pair beat Arapo to death after simmering tensions fuelled by resentments, jealousies and infidelities came to the boil.
Arapo was once Hayde’s boxing tutor and friend but the pair were cast as love rivals in the trial, both vying for the attention of the same woman. Hart was Arapo’s flatmate.
Arapo, 27, was described as a popular and outgoing man who left behind a fiancé with whom he was planning to start a family.
Both men pleaded not guilty and gave evidence to describe two differing versions of how Arapo was killed.
Hayde’s version described Hart telling Arapo, a fellow army veteran, “Goodbye brother” before stabbing him in the neck.
His story was skewered by the prosecution and Hart’s defence team as something out of an overwritten movie script.
Hart’s simpler and less filmic version had Hayde kicking Arapo to death.
Hayde’s alleged attack on his former partner has been characterised as a prelude to the killing of Arapo five weeks later.
Crown prosecutor Ned Fletcher described the killing as the crescendo of rising tensions driven by a tangled web of resentments and infidelities.
“This is a case about relationships, relationships gone wrong, and their snowballing effects,” Fletcher said.
Forensic evidence showed Arapo was dead before the fire started. A lack of carbon monoxide in his blood, or burns to his trachea, showed he had not been alive to inhale smoke.
Damage to his hyoid bone, a small, mobile structure in the throat that is typically broken only in hangings or strangulations, suggested he had been throttled. The Crown said the pair used petrol to burn down the house.
Traces of petrol were found on one of Hart’s shoes left at the scene and an empty petrol can was found in Hayde’s car. The fact that the fire was contained to Arapo’s wing of the home was evidence an accelerant was used, the prosecution claimed.
“Either both or one of the defendants killed him,” the judge said in summing up the case.
The Hayde and Hart defence teams had, in effect, a dual role as prosecutors. Each tried to prove that not only was their client not guilty but that the other man was the killer.
The pair, who had been friends since the third form at St Peter’s College in Epsom, did not speak to or look at each other as they sat together in the dock, separated by security guards.
When the jury retired, it had three versions of Arapo’s death to weigh.
The Crown said both men went to Minerva Tce to, at the very least, give Arapo a serious hiding, and both men killed him before setting the home alight in a bungled scheme to destroy the evidence.
Each had a clear motive to kill Arapo, the prosecution said.
Hayde had a blossoming relationship with Jenifer McManus, a friend of Arapo. Hayde’s relationship with her began as an affair while he was still with the woman he was charged with attacking.
It later emerged Arapo and McManus had gone beyond friendship a couple of times, before her romance with Hayde.
Hayde was jealous of Arapo’s continued closeness with her, Fletcher said.
For his part, Arapo came to take a dim view of the budding romance, especially after the domestic violence allegations emerged and after comments Hayde had made about a neighbour he viewed as attractive.
“Mr Hayde’s hatred, jealousy and paranoia of Mr Arapo came to the boil,” Fletcher said.
“He hated Mr Arapo because he was jealous and suspicious of his friendship with Jenifer McManus and on 20 October that hatred was set to explode.”
Key to both the Crown and Hart cases was a threat made by Hayde to his former partner seven weeks before Arapo’s death.
The woman said he threatened to kill her and burn down her house – the very thing the Crown and Hart’s lawyer Paul Borich KC said came to pass on October 20.
“If Sean Hayde is telling you the truth, he would have to be the victim of the cruellest coincidence in history,” Borich said.
Hayde also resented Arapo’s treatment of Hart, who was frequently behind with his rent and bills, the Crown said.
Arapo and Hart both served in the army, though not together.
Jonathan Hudson, another of Hart’s lawyers, said his client’s and Hayde’s friendship revolved around drinking cheap wine and smoking cannabis. Before they went to Arapo’s home, they drank four bottles of wine.
Arapo was not shy about letting Hart know that his attitude to the flat, his approach to parenting his son and life in general could use a tune-up. In the days before his death, Arapo had given Hart notice to leave the flat.
In a text shown to the jury from Hart to Hayde, Hart expressed his frustration and desire to leave the flat after apparently receiving another dressing-down.
“I’ll move in; n..... boy just had another one of his bullshit chats to me after u left,” Hart wrote.
Texts from Hayde to Hart also showed a desire to inflict violence on Arapo. On October 17, Hayde texted Hart saying that, as soon as Hart moved out, he would attack Arapo.
“Bro the day you get your bond back I’ll actually kick his teeth out,” Hayde wrote.
Hayde’s version of the fight at Minerva Tce before Arapo’s death alleged they fought after Arapo had taken Hart’s computer because of the debts he owed.
But after a tussle, Hayde said it was Hart who managed to get on top of Arapo.
Hayde alleged he told Arapo: “We’re meant to be brothers, we’ve served together”.
“He said a few things like ‘Ever since moving in, you’ve made my life hell’,” Hayde claimed.
At this point, Hart, who was holding a knife, referenced a toast he understood to be used in the military when clinking drinks, Hayde said.
“[He] said it’s meant to be ‘Never above you, never below you, always beside you’,” he said.
Hart then said “Goodbye brother” and stabbed Arapo in the neck, Hayde alleged.
Borich made much of Hayde’s story in his closing address. He said the supposed pause before Hayde delivered the coup de grace, in which he outlined his motive, was completely at odds with the murderous rage that usually characterised such killings.
“It’s so fanciful, so bad, that it would not even form the script of a poor movie,” Borich said.
“He has simply made it up.”
Borich said the tenancy issues and Arapo’s criticism of Hart’s lifestyle were not motives for murder.
“Frankly, the Crown’s version of Greg’s involvement is as weak as Hayde’s.”
It was only the “cold and remorseless” Hayde who had reason to kill Arapo, Borich said. He described the pair as being embroiled in what would become a deadly love triangle with McManus.
“He had the oldest motive in the world: jealousy,” Borich said.
“And the evidence could not be clearer.”
Borich acknowledged Hart had lied to Arapo’s friends and family and to police after the fire and before he was charged.
Hart had also written an inaccurate account of the fire and Arapo’s death in a notebook branded “Hidden Agenda”.
But this, Borich said, was a red herring, the actions of an unsophisticated man, a follower, a private even after leaving the army, who had eventually come clean.
“They were lies and it was a cowardly and terrible thing to do. But that does not mean he was guilty of murder.”
“To his credit, he has fronted up.
“Unlike his co-defendant, who seems oblivious to any pain or hurt he caused to anybody by his behaviour in those three months.”
As part of Hayde’s case, his lawyers Julie-Anne Kincade KC and Emma Priest called Hart’s former partner, who alleged he had throttled her in 2018.
In her closing address, Kincade said Hayde’s former partner was lying about the alleged assaults on August 30 and 31, 2020.
Hart was also lying about Hayde killing Arapo, she said.
“Gregory Hart was the person who was driving Mr Arapo nuts. Gregory Hart was the one causing Mr Arapo stress – financial stress, general life stress – generally getting him down.”