WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Testimony was set to begin today in the high-profile trial of Fang Sun, accused of killing Auckland businesswoman Elizabeth Zhong after a multimillion-dollar business fallout.
Instead, most of the day was spent selecting a new jury and repeating opening statements.
Justice Neil Campbell dismissed the jury that was empanelled on Tuesday after acknowledging today one of them was not present. While the trial, scheduled for six weeks, could technically continue with 11 jurors it would be irresponsible to do so this early, he told the group.
During his opening statement before the new jury, Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes noted Zhong had filed three separate complaints with police in the months leading up to her death, accusing Sun of threatening to kill her. She had also applied for a gun licence, telling a friend she was afraid Sun - once so close that he lived in her home - would hurt her, Kayes said.
"They had been business partners but that relationship has become sour and embittered," he added.
"It appears Fang Sun blamed Ms Zhong for losing him and his family over $25 million."
Zhong's body was discovered in the boot of her black, blood-smeared Land Rover on a Saturday evening in November 2020, wrapped in a blanket and covered by duvets so she couldn't be seen by pedestrians. The vehicle had been left parked on a residential street in Sunnyhills, an east Auckland neighbourhood where both she and Sun lived in nearby homes.
She had last been seen alive the previous afternoon and had been reported missing that Saturday morning after a close friend stopped by her home and noticed blood in her bedroom.
Authorities later determined Zhong had been stabbed more than 20 times in her bedroom before her body was moved to her vehicle in a suitcase. While her phone and wallet were never found, it doesn't appear the motive for the attack was burglary, prosecutors have suggested, adding the killer was aware of her CCTV system and removed it from the home.
One of her wounds was described as a sub-total decapitation.
"In other words, the killer nearly cut her head off," Kayes said. "...There can be no doubt what his intention was."
Also prior to Zhong's death, Sun had employed a former police officer turned private investigator to track the victim, prosecutors noted. The investigator had placed a tracking device on Zhong's Land Rover that only he and Sun knew about.
While examining Zhong's vehicle after her death, police found what was described as finger-shaped bloodstains on the undercarriage of her vehicle - suggesting, Kayes said, the killer was trying to find the tracking device and remove it. DNA found under her fingernails was determined to have a strong likelihood of belonging to the defendant, he added.
But defence lawyer Sam Wimsett predicted the DNA evidence would be contested during the trial.
"It certainly seems that whoever killed Elizabeth Zhong wanted the world to know about it and wanted the world to think Fang Sun ... did it," Wimsett said, describing his client as an intelligent businessman who didn't have a motive to kill Zhong.
While his job wasn't to identify the real killer, there were plenty of "suspicious characters" the jury would hear about during the trial, he said.
"If there's an alternative scenario, then you don't go convicting a man of murder because you can't be sure he's done it," Wimsett told jurors.
"Mr Sun did not kill her."
Jurors spent the final 30 minutes of the day listening to testimony from the first witness, Detective Hamish McCormack, who was placed in charge of the crime scene on the day of Zhong's death. He showed diagrams and photos of Zhong's home.
Testimony is expected to resume on Monday.