By ALISON HORWOOD
As the sun rose on April 13 last year, two Wellington men set off to walk to the top of Mt Holdsworth in the Tararua Ranges.
What happened at the summit may never be known - but only one of them came back alive.
Before midday, 23-year-old party boy and Clyne agency model William Jan Haanstra was seen coming down the hill, his blue tracksuit soaked with sweat.
In the days that followed, the cellphone of his companion and cohort in an Ecstasy-importing plan, Terri Robert King, would ring incessantly, but go unanswered.
Mr King, nicknamed Tricky, was a big-mouth who made it his business to be well known in the criminal underbelly of the capital.
After a childhood marred by attention deficit disorder, his adult life involved easy cash and hard drugs. With a failing contracting business and $50,000 in debts, he took to pushing pills and importing Ecstasy from South Africa.
The 31-year-old disappeared, and more than two months later a hunter stumbled upon his decomposing body lying face-up near Powell Hut. He had died instantly after being hit from behind by a single shot from a rifle.
Haanstra at first said nothing, but later told police that the killers had returned overseas. He had been told to keep his mouth shut and he feared for the lives of his family.
Later he would tell of running for his life after two Russians jumped out of the bushes on the mountain.
Haanstra was arrested in October last year and charged with Mr King's murder.
After a seven-week trial, a jury in the High Court at Wellington deliberated for 28 hours and last night returned a verdict of not guilty.
Members of the King and Haanstra families burst into tears, and a friend of Mr King stormed out of the courtroom, yelling an obscenity at Haanstra.
The acquitted man was led away to continue a 3 1/4-year jail sentence for importing Ecstasy in 1999.
The crown case was that Haanstra was the last person known to see Mr King alive and owed him $8000.
He lured him up the mountain with the promise of a buried Ecstasy cache, and as Mr King began to dig with a fold-up shovel, Haanstra shot him in the back of the head.
But defence lawyer Donald Stevens said Mr King had wronged people in the seedy world of international drug-smuggling - and many had a far better motive than Haanstra to silence him.
The defence case was based on the possibility that Mr King was killed by a drug-smuggling syndicate involving three South Africans.
Mr King had imported drugs from South Africa, but relations had soured. The night before he disappeared he had been nervous.
"He said two or three of the South Africans he met were in New Zealand and they were not the type of people you f*** around with," Dr Stevens told the court.
Two of the South Africans, John Goldsmith and Albertus Van Schalkwyk, had been special forces police under the apartheid regime and were "trained killers."
They spent a year in prison in New Zealand on Ecstasy importing charges but returned to South Africa after giving evidence.
Neither had been in NZ when Mr King disappeared, Dr Stevens said, but with their contacts and skills it was possible they had been conspirators.
John Goldsmith's brother, Maynard, arrived in NZ four days before Mr King was shot. Dr Stevens said the value he placed on human life was obvious when evidence was given about his comments - "if a kaffir, or black, came onto his property he would shoot him."
Maynard Goldsmith gave evidence after the Solicitor-General granted him immunity from prosecution for drug charges.
He said that on the night of the murder, he dined in Wellington.
Dr Stevens said: "These South Africans must have been laughing all the way back to South Africa.
"It would be simple for the killer or killers to wait in the carpark for Haanstra and King and trail them up the hill ... King is silenced.
"By letting [Haanstra] live, the killers created someone to cop the blame."
By ALISON HORWOOD