A detective who investigated the infamous Red Fox Tavern cold case has told a jury a man who once was a top suspect did not have the window of opportunity to commit the crime.
Detective Senior Sergeant Michael Hayward has been cross-examined in a High Court trial about the plans and whereabouts of Lester Hamilton - a man who had bragged about being a suspect in the case.
A man with name suppression and Mark Joseph Hoggart have been accused of the 1987 aggravated robbery of the pub and murder of its owner, Christopher Bush, in Waikato.
The Crown says two heavily disguised intruders burst in through a back door of the Maramarua tavern about 11.45pm on the Saturday night of Labour Weekend.
It is alleged one fired a sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun, killing Bush before his three staff members were tied up and just over $36,000 was stolen.
Both the accused men deny they are the culprits responsible for those crimes.
In the aftermath of Bush's death, Lester Hamilton was among the "number one" suspects, the court has heard.
The unnamed defendant's lawyer, Christopher Stevenson, said Hamilton had been planning to rob the Red Fox Tavern.
"He's got form for it. He gave a false alibi and he told all and sundry afterwards that he'd done it."
Hayward replied that Hamilton was closely looked at.
"I am very satisfied, and the investigators at the time were as well, he is not responsible for this offence."
The detective disagreed that Hamilton had form as someone who had been a getaway driver in an armed robbery.
Stevenson said he could have graduated beyond that role to become an intruder.
"I disagree with that as well," Hayward replied.
He said he believed Hamilton's history showed his offending continued in the vein of burglaries to support a drug addiction.
Stevenson asked about tunnel vision - where in an overly narrowed investigation focus unconscious bias builds a case against one person whilst "ignoring evidence" that pointed elsewhere.
Hayward said aspects of tunnel vision probably worked against Hamilton at the time as he was an active offender in the area who came to the investigation's attention early on.
"This was a high-profile case. New Zealand wanted to know."
Hayward said he did not see evidence of tunnel vision elsewhere on the police file.
Stevenson challenged the police timeline of Hamilton's movements on the night of October 24, saying one of the women he was with had said they were only together until 8pm.
Hayward said other evidence including what one of the women watched on television after Hamilton dropped her off in Mt Roskill showed that he was with them until about 11pm.
"[Hamilton] told a number of people afterwards, that he had in fact done the Red Fox homicide," Stevenson said.
"There is no doubt he bragged about being a suspect in the Red Fox," Hayward replied.
But for all the talk and rumours, when pulled back to the evidence of where Hamilton was on the night of the 24th in the "crucial hours" leading up to the homicide he was not near the tavern, Hayward said.
"On the evidence on the night, he just can't do it."
Hayward also said that discussions Hamilton had with associates about robbing the Red Fox Tavern was ultimately vetoed because it was too local.
The court has previously heard some 230 individuals, including the defendants, had been investigated as persons of interest in the case.
Hamilton's name was nominated several times, with one man telling police Hamilton had confessed to him while they were in Mt Eden prison.
Frank Edward Pickering gave a statement that Hamilton had told him he was involved in the fatal Red Fox Tavern robbery.
"The way Hamilton was talking to me, I thought he felt good about it," Pickering said.
"He seemed to think it was a big buzz."
Pickering said Hamilton told him he had pulled the trigger shooting the 43-year-old publican.
"I can still remember the exact words to this day. Hamilton was serious. He wasn't joking. As a mate of his, I knew he was serious."
Pickering, who is now deceased, said he had finally come forward to clear his conscience without being offered anything in return.
"I am prepared to give evidence against Hamilton now. I am getting old and things need to put right. It is a long time to have kept silent."
In the police brief on the nomination, it was noted Pickering had a record for dishonesty including use of over 50 known aliases.
His approach to police with the information came at a time when he was facing minor charges, the court has heard.
Crown prosecutor Ned Fletcher said there were many reasons for concern about the reliability of Pickering's nomination.
That included doubt Pickering was even in Mt Eden prison he when said the conversation occurred, the court heard.
Fletcher said police were also not aware of Hamilton and Pickering being associates despite the latter claiming he was a "very good mate".
"Not that I have been able to establish," Hayward said.
The trial in the High Court at Auckland continues tomorrow.