Something seemed odd about the scene in the High Court at Auckland this week. Courtroom 12 was the venue for the Crown versus Emery, a murder case. On one side of the court's expanse sat the accused, Bruce Emery, blinking through spectacles as he watched a replay of his police interview conducted after 15-year-old Pihema Cameron died of a stab wound.
Because of the court's size and unusual shape, it is as though he is on the fringe of events unfolding in court when, of course, he is at the epicentre.
The jury sat on the opposite side of the room, as far away as could be. The judge, hawkish nose, hooded eyelids, white tufts sprouting around ears, sat wizard-like all of five metres from the accused father of three.
No surprise if it seemed to Emery like an out-of-body experience. The thing that strikes as unusual is Emery's apparent utter ordinariness.
This courtroom has seen the convictions of brutal offenders. Serial stalker-rapist Malcolm Rewa was brought to justice right here, as were many callous gang members who profited from drugs and violence.
While they appeared hardened and edgy, Emery, found guilty of manslaughter yesterday, is soft and round.
His lawyer, Chris Comeskey, told the jury his client had worried away an abundance of weight since being charged in January, which suggests Emery was Bunteresque when he caught Cameron and a 16-year-old friend tagging his garage door.
Mr Comeskey would later wonder how two slender youths had failed to outrun a fat middle-aged man and invite jurors to consider whether the youths in fact planned an "ambush".
Though the defence didn't direct them, it's for the jury to consider what effect the vodka mixes, beer and cannabis the pair had consumed might have had on their speed of escape.
Emery's "ordinariness", his plight as the victim of taggers garnered public sympathy. But was it as simple as that?
Both became issues in the case. Did he react as an ordinary person would? Was he fired by anger that his home had been defaced again? How did anger influence what happened when he and the two taggers confronted each other in a neighbouring dead-end street 365 metres from Emery's home?
And, what do the answers mean in a dispassionate court of law in terms of guilt or innocence, murder or manslaughter?
The 70-seat public gallery was packed Wednesday as the Crown and defence presented closing arguments. That, offered Mr Comeskey, was because this was an exceptional case about an accused who "got no warning of the hurricane about to envelop him", no time to select a non-lethal weapon, a rubber hose or a tear-gas canister, when he saw his property being tagged again.
The defence lawyer paints his picture of a good citizen, a family man: he's 50, married 20 years, father of young daughters, owner of an upholstery business he runs from home. Outside a boat sits ready to take his children fishing the next day. Inside, his wife, Sotju, prepares Indonesian food for church.
Mr Comeskey: The type of citizen society could do with more of.
About 11pm Emery sees someone tagging his garage door. Again. He wants to keep his property tidy, graffiti is not good for business. Unsurprisingly, he's angry.
There are two, identities disguised by hoodies. Emery isn't anonymous. They know his property and therefore who he is. He's at a distinct disadvantage, says Mr Comeskey. He hurries downstairs, grabs a fishing knife, gives chase. He is dressed in shorts and T-shirt, his feet bare.
What else can we learn about Emery? The youngest of four, he grew up on a farm on Auckland's southern fringe. Trained in saddlery, he set up an upholstery business.
Summer evenings might see the Emerys (their daughters are 14, 12 and 9) walking or cycling with their dog. Emery did the school drop-offs. The girls, says his sister, are "his pride and joy".
Days were spent toiling in the garage that fronts the 1980s home in Manurewa's Mahia Road. Early starts, late finishes weren't uncommon. Emery was particular about his work and his belongings, keeping his place tidy, neighbours said.
A container Emery used as a shed was regularly targeted, as were the garage doors. He wasn't the only one. Tags were common on fences along Mahia Road.
The neighbour, who did not want to be named, would often see Emery checking his property at night.
Once, Emery caught a car thief and held him until police arrived.
One woman emailed the Herald after Emery was arrested to say she'd known him three years and found him to be soft-spoken and gentle.
Others had different opinions. Grumpy, reclusive. Some who grew up in the neighbourhood said Emery would grumble, shoo them away for noisy play or for picking fruit from his loquat tree. But he'd never confront them if an adult was present.
"The bully behind the curtains," was one person's summation.
A neighbour who did not wish to be named said Emery was "a bully" who had changed life for everyone in the neighbourhood.
"He's a cold, calculated bugger. He went down there with the knife and should be done for murder," the neighbour said. "That's all he's been doing for years, bullying all the kids."
Emery and Jeremy McGrath, 34, were never going to see eye to eye. Mr McGrath confesses to being a petrolhead and tells the Weekend Herald he and friends regularly did "burnouts" when they lived near Emery's home 15 years ago.
Mr McGrath describes a road-rage incident from that time. He'd arrived home in his noisy car and was about to go out again when Emery backed his van and trailer across the road to block his exit. A row ensued which, says Mr McGrath, ended when he marched Emery off by the scruff of his neck. "He was a busybody with a chip on his shoulder. He just had it in for younger people."
In court this week the Crown suggested the case was about an angry man dispensing punishment.
When Emery saw the taggers, red mist descended.
"This is all about an angry man with a history of tagging on his property and he finally catches one," prosecutor Aaron Perkins told the jury.
Not going home didn't make Emery a frenzied killer, countered Mr Comeskey. "If he's as angry as the Crown says, why wasn't it a frenzied attack?"
The knife had a 14cm blade but penetrated 5cm. Rather than the thrust that Cameron's tagging accomplice described, it was "more probable the deceased hasn't seen the knife and he's walked into it".
The key to a legal defence of self defence is reasonable force in the circumstances and the test for murder is whether Emery consciously appreciated his actions might cause the boy's death. Whether and where he aimed the knife was relevant.
The boy was stabbed in the chest, where the vital organs are, but Emery told police "he came forward and I just straightened my arm towards his shoulder".
Anger alone didn't kill the boy. All victims of tagging are angered, as former police minister and tagging victim Annette King told the Herald this year: "I felt angry because it's a violation of private property."
Emery faces jail because of this: He chased taggers with a knife. He held the knife out. Someone was fatally stabbed. He went home, washed blood from the knife, placed it under a mattress. He told his wife nothing and he did not call police.
What did he think when told Cameron had died, the interviewing detective asked at 5.20am, Sunday January 26, just hours after.
"I just couldn't believe it, just can't believe it," Emery replied. "I just wish I'd stopped. The poor little bugger ... I should've stayed at home."
Said the prosecutor to the jury on Wednesday: "There's no defence of regret."
Lawyer to push for bail and home detention
Bruce Emery's time behind bars may end on Wednesday.
While he was taken into custody following his manslaughter conviction yesterday, a legal hearing next week could see him freed.
Immediately following the jury's decision, his lawyer, Chris Comeskey, applied for bail.
Justice Hugh Williams said he would hear Mr Comeskey's bail application on Wednesday. When Emery is sentenced in February, Mr Comeskey is expected to push for home detention.
- additional reporting Beck Vass, Andrew Koubaridis and Chris Barton.