A criminal never arrested for the Red Fox Tavern murder confessed to his friend about doing the crime, jurors heard today.
The late Lester Hamilton bragged about being a suspect in the case and "narked" on his friend after a gruesome armed robbery committed years earlier, the High Court at Auckland heard.
Mark Joseph Hoggart and a man with name suppression have pleaded not guilty to the 1987 aggravated robbery at the Maramarua pub and murder of tavern owner Christopher Bush.
A third of a century after Bush was murdered at the Waikato tavern, the wrong men were in the dock, said lawyer Carla Dawson, appearing for the unnamed man.
The court today heard from a long-serving inmate who knew Hamilton for many years.
Private investigator Tim McKinnel approached the inmate and asked him to testify for the defence.
Jurors heard the inmate told McKinnel: "Something had come up about the Red Fox Tavern case and Lester said to me: 'They won't get anyone for that, I did it'."
"You don't know whether he was making that up or not," prosecutor Ned Fletcher said.
The inmate took a while to respond.
"That's a telling pause there," Fletcher opined.
"Knowing Lester, I believed it to be true," the inmate replied. "Lester trusted me 100 per cent."
Jurors heard this trust was earned because the inmate never told police anything about an early 1980s armed robbery.
"I was the only one that said nothing."
Fletcher suggested the statement given to McKinnel was littered with errors.
The inmate, who was granted name suppression, admitted Hamilton was something of a braggart.
And he said many prisoners boasted about crimes they'd never actually committed.
Hamilton died in 2003.
The inmate's arm was severely damaged when a shotgun went off during a 1980s armed robbery he committed with Hamilton and a third man.
Jurors were told the third man spun around in response to a screaming customer and accidentally fired the shotgun.
The inmate said he was in a pickle afterwards, focused on what to do about his injury.
"We got back to the house, and just started drinking alcohol. I started drinking whisky."
He said he told his friends to pour whisky on the wound.
Because he didn't want to go to hospital in Auckland, he caught a flight to Wellington.
"They took one look at the state of your arm and put you on a flight to Christchurch?" Fletcher asked the inmate.
The inmate said he received some treatment in the capital before being transferred to the South Island.
The court was told police caught him in Christchurch, and by then Hamilton and the third man had been apprehended and spilled the beans.
Police told the inmate Hamilton had made a statement against him.
Fletcher asked the inmate how he felt after Hamilton "narked" on him.
"When it first happened, for me, I was going through this," he said, gesturing at his arm.
He said he buried any grudges.
"What was done was done. We're doing our lags. Get on with it."
"Are you a bit angry at the system?" Fletcher asked.
Defence lawyer Christopher Stevenson, for the unnamed man, has told the court Hamilton had planned to rob the Red Fox Tavern.
"He's got form for it. He gave a false alibi and he told all and sundry afterwards that he'd done it," Stevenson said earlier this week.
The inmate was also asked today if he knew Hoggart's co-defendant.
"I don't know him. I know of him."
He said he'd seen the murder-accused in jail before and they'd acknowledge each other with a nod of the head and a "howzit".
The inmate said he learned through other prisoners about the identities of the men arrested for the Red Fox Tavern murder.
He said he remembered thinking: "No, no, no, you got the wrong men."
The Crown has claimed two heavily disguised intruders, donning balaclavas and gloves, burst in through a back door of the Maramarua tavern on Labour Weekend.
It is alleged one fired a sawn-off shotgun, killing Bush, before three staff members were tied up and about $36,000 stolen.
Despite major public interest and a huge 1988 police investigation, the inquiry closed with nobody charged.
Some 230 people, including those now on trial, were investigated.
Police reopened the case in 2016. The two men were arrested the following year.
The trial before Justice Mark Woolford and the jury continues.
Additional reporting: Chelsea Boyle