After five hours of tense cross-examination today in which it was explicitly suggested that he might have been businesswoman Elizabeth Zhong's real killer, ex-boyfriend and former business partner David Zheng suffered what appeared to be a breakdown in court.
"Humiliation!" he shouted shortly after defence lawyer Sam Wimsett finished his questioning. "To be asked questions like that!"
He continued to breathe heavily after Justice Neil Campbell asked him to stop speaking, balling his hand into a tight fist before putting it to his forehead. He then took off his glasses and placed his head onto the surface of the witness stand, leaving it there for over a minute as the judge sent the jury away for an impromptu afternoon break.
Loud sobbing could be heard as the jury filed out, not returning until more than an hour-and-a-half later.
Zheng is not on trial for murder - it is Zhong's other business partner, Fang Sun, who has been described by prosecutors as having blamed the Auckland businesswoman for having lost him and his family over $25 million.
But Sun's lawyers predicted last week that there would be plenty of other "suspicious characters" jurors would hear from. If jurors determine there are others who wanted Zhong dead and can't be sure which one was responsible, they must acquit Sun, Wimsett said during his opening statement last week.
The lawyer capped his cross-examination of Zheng today by asking where he was on the night she was killed.
"Did you go to her house and go into the kitchen area via the ranch slider door off the balcony?" he asked.
"One-hundred per cent, no," Zheng replied.
"Did you stab her and kill her in that house?"
"Did you put her in a suitcase and put her down the stairs?"
Zheng's reply: "No. Can I ask you what evidence you have?"
The questioning continued as Wimsett outlined the details of the grisly killing.
"I was never there at the time you mentioned," Zheng said. "You can easily track my position by using GPS on my phone, as you previously have showed."
Zhong's body was discovered by police in the boot of her black, blood-smeared Land Rover on a Saturday evening in November 2020. The vehicle had been left parked on a residential street in Sunnyhills, an east Auckland neighbourhood where she and the defendant lived in nearby homes.
Zheng, meanwhile, lived about 30 minutes away. The two had dated for about six months but had broken off the relationship a year before her death. Despite that, they remained close friends, Zheng told jurors yesterday when he first took the witness stand.
The knife attack, which took place in her bedroom in the middle of the night, was so violent she was nearly decapitated and didn't appear to be the result of a burglary, Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes said during his opening statement last week.
Yesterday, the defence focused during cross-examination on a $50,000 investment Zhong made in a movie company she started with Zheng. Her daughter made numerous requests asking Zheng to return the money, text messages show.
Today, Wimsett noted that Zheng went to play beach volleyball after learning that his friend had gone missing, and that he refused to let police search his phone during an interview days after her body was discovered.
The defence also suggested that Zheng lied to police to end an interview early, saying he had to pick up a friend from the airport even though cellphone data records showed him nowhere near the airport, and of not showing police all his shoes after they asked to see them.
Zheng responded that he only continued with his volleyball plans after Zheng's daughter declined his offer for help and she said police didn't want civilians helping with the search. He couldn't remember why he didn't end up going to the airport after the police interview but it's not unusual that plans might have changed, he explained.
"When I was rejected by her for offering my help sincerely, that is the reason I continue with my volleyball," he said. "There is nothing else I can do."
He acknowledged refusing a police request to search his phone because he has a right as a New Zealand citizen, he said, to protect his privacy. But police did photograph his shoes, he said, adding that he co-operated in every other way. The detective appeared to be in a hurry and wasn't interested in photographing all 40 pairs of his shoes, he said.
Jurors were shown CCTV footage of Zheng wearing a pair of running shoes at a restaurant on the day before Zhong's body was found. They weren't among the photographed shoes.
"If you can show me a very clear picture [of the shoes in the CCTV footage] I think I should be able to tell you where the shoes are. Maybe the court can collect the shoes if it's important to this case," Zheng told Wimsett as the lawyer ignored his offer.
"I had no intention whatsoever to hide any information about my shoes."