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A sick mum, a son who 'snapped'. And 'two lives ruined'

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Martin Marinovich would often eat dinner alone in his room where things were a bit tidier than the rest of the home he shared with his mum.

A layer of dust covered most things in the house, cobwebs hung from the light fixtures and there was mould in places too.

He was finding it harder to keep up with the housekeeping, as he cared for his mother Noeleen Ann Marinovich, whose physical health was worsening.

She was incontinent, suffered from angina and was unsteady on her feet - often collapsing.

He would take care of the shopping, pay the bills, help her in the bathroom and even dyed her hair which was a job she used to manage by herself.

There were cards around the house for birthdays as well as Mother's Day - they said that the young man loved his mum.

And as Martin stood in the dock in the High Court at Auckland accused - and yesterday found guilty - of murdering his 59-year-old mum, neither the defence nor the prosecution disputed that connection.

Sometimes love's not enough though to prevent tragedy.

In her opening argument, Crown prosecutor Elena Mok said he had simply "snapped".

"It is plain the defendant was isolated and under a great deal of strain in the lead-up to that night."

The pair argued in their Oratia home before he tried to strangle her and then bashed her head with a hammer multiple times, she said.

There were 10 lacerations to her head, and her body was formally identified by dental records, the court heard.

When Noeleen was hospitalised about a week before her death, her son confided in a family friend, Janet Daniel, that he could no longer cope.

This was a "cry for help", he later told the jury.

Daniel had already told the court about that exchange and said she had never seen him in that state.

"And I said to him: 'Don't take her home. Leave her at the hospital'," she said.

Daniel also told the court Martin was ordinarily gentle and non-violent.

"They got along very well. They had a few words sometimes, everybody does.

"He'd say 'oh mum you don't know what you're talking about'."

And then he'd laugh and go to his bedroom.

"He has been looking after her since he was 9 years old."

The past couple of years had been harder for him as he had to keep picking her up off the floor or help her out of the bath following the times she collapsed.

Martin was at his local train station when he dialled 111 shortly after midnight on the morning of February 8.

He had already driven past the Henderson police station when he had pulled over.

He wanted it to be over.

"I think I've killed my mother," he told the call taker.

"I snapped and I hit her in the head with a hammer.

"I think I tried to strangle her and then I hit her in the head with a hammer."

He told the police officers who arrested him for murder what he later told his jury - he could not remember how many times he hit her with the hammer.

But he denied what unfolded was murder. "He never intended to kill her," his lawyer Shane Tait said.

Martin Marinovich's trial began in the High Court at Auckland on February 17, 2020, more than a year after his mother's death. Photo / File
Martin Marinovich's trial began in the High Court at Auckland on February 17, 2020, more than a year after his mother's death. Photo / File

The defence maintained he had fatally strangled his mother in an instance of manslaughter and that he later hit her with the hammer.

Tait said it did not matter why he had hit her with the hammer, perhaps it was indicative that under the pressures at home his client had lost "all reasonable thought".

Martin's trial was presided over by Justice Tracey Walker who said his background was "sad and troubled".

The 28-year-old told the court about life with his mother, who he had always known suffered from bipolar.

She believed people were after her and when manic she'd throw things.

"As a young child you naturally believe what your mother says to you."

Initially living with his grandparents and uncle the pair would soon move into their own small dwelling on the same property.

Martin's father was never in the picture, the court heard.

As time wore on the house that had once been Noeleen's pride and joy became grubby.

Her room had stacks of clothing strewn in different piles but all things were mixed together regardless of if they were clean, dirty, old or new.

Some of the clothes still had tags on.

A big problem for the household was that the toilet was broken and was going to cost thousands to repair.

A leak gone unnoticed for too long had caused the floor to buckle, rendering the toilet unusable.

The pair depended solely on Noeleen's benefit which only provided about $549 a week.

In her son's words money was "extremely tight".

Unable to afford the repair, they were instead using a chemical toilet that would have been more commonly used for camping.

"She wanted to go to Queenstown for her birthday, we didn't have enough money," Martin told the court.

"We didn't even have enough money to fix the toilet."

He recalled on the night of her death they had stood in the lounge arguing over money, facing each other and shouting.

"I'm not sure how long we were there for - at some point during that argument, I can only describe it like a light switch turning on."

He got so angry that it was not even anger, it was more like rage, he said.

"I continued to strangle her, essentially for what felt to me like 10, 15 minutes at that point."

When he noticed "blood poured out of her nose" he believed she had died, he claimed.

He claimed it was only after she died that he hit her in the head with a hammer multiple times.

Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey. Photo / Sam Hurley
Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey. Photo / Sam Hurley

Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey asked why he would repeatedly strike her with the hammer if he believed she was already dead.

"I have no reasonable answer to that question. I can't understand my own actions at that point," Martin replied.

"I can't understand why I went looking for anything else."

In his version of events he had paced around the house, sat in the hallway and showered before driving to the train station where he made the call that led police to find his mother's bludgeoned body.

When Sergeant Brett Hanley approached the small Carter Rd house it was still dark as February 8 had only just begun.

The ranch slider door was open, the lights and television were still on inside.

Not far from the door the 59-year-old woman lay on her back and it was clear to him that she was deceased.

Hanley said he believed there was a blanket wrapped around the woman's neck and he also noted there was a "red-handled hammer lying in a pool of blood".

"It was an injury that I believed was totally incompatible with life," he said.

"I noticed there was a lot of blood that went all the way up the wall as well. At that point I went out of the scene the way I came in."

Hanley made the decision to close down the scene and radioed to confirm an ambulance was en route.

Police working at the scene after Noeleen Marinovich, 59, died in Oratia. Photo / Doug Sherring
Police working at the scene after Noeleen Marinovich, 59, died in Oratia. Photo / Doug Sherring

A paramedic later arrived and confirmed Noeleen had died.

After her son's arrest he was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

It took a jury just three hours to unanimously decide Martin was guilty of murdering his mother. He will be sentenced on April 1.

During his closing argument, McCoubrey said he had no doubt Martin regretted his actions but that did not mean he lacked intent when they unfolded.

"This is an absolute tragedy," he said.

"This is a tale of two lives ruined. There is no doubt about that."