A Hawke's Bay man acquitted two weeks ago of fatally shooting a neighbour has avoided a jail term for unlawfully taking a motor vehicle at knifepoint after the shooting.

Wilson Neil Apatu, who appeared for sentence today in the High Court at Napier, had earlier admitted taking a utility truck from a couple who stopped to help him after he rolled his car leaving the shooting scene at Waikoau, 40km north of Napier, on August 30 last year.

He was acquitted on September 22 of a charge of murdering a neighbour, Layden Rameka, 35, with a semi-automatic rifle, the attempted murder of Rameka's eight-year-old son, Zepplen, and breaking and entering with intent.

Today his counsel, Russell Fairbrother, told the court that rehabilitation of Apatu, who had psychological and drug-use issues, should be the focus of sentencing and that part of that would depend on the judge's assessment of his culpability.

The jury that acquitted his client two weeks ago had taken a "benign" interpretation of the events that led to the taking of the utility at knifepoint shortly after the shooting.

While the use of a knife was the most serious aspect of the offence, it had also been done with a degree of politeness, said Mr Fairbrother, with Apatu apologising to the elderly couple as he commandeered their vehicle.

His client accepted he had taken advantage of the couple who had stopped to help him with the best of intentions, something that was still a feature of New Zealand society.

Judge Forrest Miller, who presided over Apatu's murder trial, said the accused had been in prison almost 13 months since his arrest on the day of the shooting, which had followed a violent earlier confrontation with his neighbour over the behaviour of Rameka's sons.

The judge said Apatu had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and social phobia, which had led to his living in isolation and the over-use of medication and alcohol. He had been drinking heavily and using cannabis in the weeks leading up to the fatal confrontation with Rameka on August 30.

Apatu had 20 previous convictions, including two involving firearms and four involving driving with excess breath alcohol. Ordinarily, an offence such as unlawfully taking a vehicle would have meant imprisonment. However he could not impose a sentence of intensive supervision if Apatu was imprisoned.

He sentenced Apatu to the maximum term of two years' intensive supervision, with a number of conditions including attending an anger-management course, assessment for drug and alcohol counselling and any treatment recommended by a psychologist.

- NZPA