On a warm February evening this year Haumoana man Mark Geoffrey Beale headed down to the beach to socialise but instead met the man who would kill him.

The father of two lived an isolated life in the seaside settlement and loved to fish, often casting a net and chatting to others fishing on the beach.

The evening of February 5 was no different, and yet the chance encounter with a local teenager ended in his death.

Police were first called to the scene in Haumoana, an incident flagged as an assault, at about 7.45am on Waitangi Day.


Detective Sarah Williams arrived to find a blood-stained area of tussock grass near the Tukituki river mouth.

Ambulance staff had taken Beale to the Hawke's Bay Hospital where Dr Matthew Bailey determined he had life-threatening brain injuries.

The injuries were later concluded unsurvivable and family made the difficult decision to switch a ventilator supporting his breathing off. He died just after midnight on February 7.

Mark Beale was found unconscious after being assaulted on the beach at Haumoana. Photo / supplied
Mark Beale was found unconscious after being assaulted on the beach at Haumoana. Photo / supplied

A homicide investigation dubbed Operation Helm saw a team of 35 police comb the seaside community in the following days, door knocking and speaking to residents.

Police announced they were looking to identify three Maori men seen at the Tukituki river mouth and 19-year-old Johnnie Puna was arrested and charged with Beale's murder on February 24.

Yesterday, after three hours of deliberations in the High Court at Napier, a jury delivered a guilty verdict.

Previously unknown to each other, Beale met Puna in a chance encounter on Haumoana beach on the evening of February 5.

Both parties had been drinking; Beale with his home brew vodka in hand and Puna with cans of bourbon and cola mix.

The teenager had set up a tarpaulin and music speaker that night with his cousin Leroy Christie while their uncle Tehungia Puna tended to a fishing net down at the beach.

The youngsters were drunk when they first encountered Beale, who approached them with a plastic drink bottle of vodka he went on to share with Puna.

The alcohol, made with meths and put through a charcoal filter thrice, eventually ran out and the pair headed to Beale's house for more liquor.

Later, Mr Christie said he watched as Beale accidentally tripped and pulled Puna down.

This, Crown Prosecutor Steve Manning said, was the "catalyst" for the fatal attack that followed.

"It seems Mr Puna chose to attack Mr Beale for an innocuous and simple reason. Mr Beale accidentally fell over pulling Mr Puna to the ground and causing him to receive a minor cut to his lip."

Domain Rd near the mouth of Tukituki River, where Beale was found. Photo / Duncan Brown
Domain Rd near the mouth of Tukituki River, where Beale was found. Photo / Duncan Brown

It was accepted at the outset that Puna went on to deliver a number of punches and kicks to Beale's head, and that these actions caused Beale's death.

However the intent, or recklessness, in which these were inflicted was the subject of the trial.

The Crown claimed it was murder, by way of Puna either intending to kill Beale or intending to cause bodily injury he knew was likely to cause the man's death.

Defence lawyer Eric Forster said the teenager did not have murderous intent but was young and drunk, and did not realise the injuries could be fatal.

They submitted the appropriate verdict was manslaughter.

In a DVD interview Mr Christie said his cousin had turned to him before the beating and said, "Watch this."

Puna began punching and kicking Beale on the head, knocking him out before waiting for him to regain consciousness to further the assault.

"Something just went over him and just possessed him to keep on going. It was f***ed up," he said.

Concerned, the 18-year-old asked Puna to stop and when this didn't work he resorted to telling Beale to stay on the ground.

"If I wasn't there I don't think he would've stopped. I think he would've kept on going. I think he would have killed him on that spot."

The assault lasted upwards of 40 minutes, ending with Puna urinating on the man as he lay dying.

At one point concerned passers-by queried why Beale was lying on the ground but Puna told them he was drunk and asleep.

When Tehungia Puna returned from the beach he saw Beale on the ground and asked his nephews to roll him on his side so he didn't choke on his tongue before the trio packed and went home.

He told the court he later found a video of the bloodied man on his phone before quickly deleting it.

Walkway near the mouth of Tukituki River, between Grange Rd North and Domain Rd, Haumoana. Photo / Duncan Brown
Walkway near the mouth of Tukituki River, between Grange Rd North and Domain Rd, Haumoana. Photo / Duncan Brown

Police were able to recover a still image of the video, a chilling image of the man's last living hours, and this was presented to the jury as an exhibit.

The court heard Beale's blood alcohol reading was more than five times the driving limit from forensic pathologist Dr Amy Spark.

His long-standing issue with alcoholism was a much-discussed topic throughout the trial.

His eldest son Jared Beale said his father had an "intimate" relationship with alcohol, vodka being his drink of choice, but added that it didn't appear to be an issue when he last saw him.

"He was definitely a happy drunk. He wouldn't get angry or anything like that. He'd just put himself to sleep eventually."

In his closing address Steve Manning asked the jury to put on Puna's bloodied shoes and walk around in them.

"Put yourself in Mr Puna's place and ask yourself what else can he have been thinking. What was he thinking as he drove, forcefully, his foot into the face and head, repeatedly, of a defenceless man lying on the ground."

He told the court the deceased had simply headed out to socialise, and did just this with Puna, that fateful night.

"He ran into his killer. He reached out to his killer. He took him to his home and gave him a drink. He didn't know what was to come. He was a victim of his own naivety."

Puna will be sentenced on February 8.