By JO-MARIE BROWN
Judge Michael Lance, QC, fixed his gaze on the public gallery and warned that no outbursts would be tolerated.
"I want the verdicts taken in total silence," he told Courtroom 7 at the Auckland District Court yesterday.
Then he ordered the courtroom doors be locked.
Mark Middleton's supporters, some of whom had never met him, sat in pained restraint as the jury's foreman handed down his verdict.
Middleton, aged 44, was guilty on three charges of threatening to kill the man who murdered his stepdaughter, schoolgirl Karla Cardno, 11 years ago in Lower Hutt. He was found not guilty on two other charges of threatening to kill.
The case has sparked huge debate over whether Middleton was justified in threatening to kill Paul Dally should he ever be released from prison.
Among the 30 people who watched the trial unfold were some who had never met Middleton. There were others whose names have become well known after terrible crimes. They had an inkling of what he had gone through.
A Napier father and daughter, Garth and Jessica McVicar, who have never lost a family member in violent circumstances, lent Middleton moral support at the trial. They said they shared the same values.
Others included Henk Bouma, who lost his wife, Beverly, in a Reporoa murder. And Greg Stenbeck, whose son was the fiance of Kylie Jones, the young woman killed in a Glen Innes park as she walked home after work.
But a single wink and a half-smile towards the public gallery was all the thanks Middleton had time to convey yesterday as he was led into custody after being denied bail.
Judge Lance told Middleton his threats to "crucify" Dally meant it was likely he would be sentenced to a jail term.
"They were serious, they were repetitive, they were committed in the face of warnings from police to desist," the judge said.
After the verdict was announced, Middleton's 24-year-old niece, Kate Middleton, collapsed in tears, shocked at the verdict, shocked that her uncle was going to prison.
"I think it was a pretty sad moment for humanity and New Zealand as a community," she said.
The brutal murder of Karla Cardno had left mental scars.
Snatched off her bike on her way home from the shops, the 13-year-old was tortured, raped and abused by Dally for 22 hours before he buried her alive in a shallow grave on the Pencarrow coast.
Karla had been like a sister to Kate. Her last holiday was spent on a camping holiday with Kate's family.
"As a 12-year-old child it affects your world view, how you deal with every person you meet and every thought that goes through your head.
"It becomes a part of you forever."
Determined that Dally would pay for his crime, Middleton repeatedly vowed during media interviews in August and September 1999 to kill him if he was released on parole.
"I want his life from him and that means you either keep him in for life or I'll take his life," Middleton told Wanganui police.
Throughout the trial Middleton sat resolute. With his arms crossed and a bottle of energy drink beside him, he watched the videos of newsclips and police interviews intently.
The court heard that Middleton intended his threats to be taken very seriously. But his oldest brother, George, said that underneath the tough, determined exterior was a man still trying to deal with his grief.
"What you are seeing in Mark is the damage done by that sort of crime. To look at those videos, how can you not see a grieving father?" George Middleton asked.
Middleton, the fourth child in a family of eight, stood for Parliament at the last general election, advocating tougher sentences for violent criminals. He won nearly 3000 votes in his home electorate of Wanganui.
George Middleton does not condone violence and was not surprised at the verdicts. But he said the jurors should not have ignored their emotions, as directed by Judge Lance. "Emotions are at the heart of what's happened. If that had happened to your child would you guarantee your behaviour?"
Emotional or not, Middleton had been warned by the head of Wanganui's Criminal Investigation Branch, Detective Senior Sergeant Graham Matthews, to stop making the threats because every time he uttered them he committed a further offence.
But Middleton did repeat them. He told the Dominion and the Wanganui Chronicle he would nail Dally upside down to a tree.
"I'll cut his balls off and shove them down his throat. I'll sew his mouth shut and I'll kill him over three days."
Greg Stenbeck heard the verdicts and acknowledged that Middleton had broken the law.
"There's no question that he was wrong. He's guilty of threatening death.
"But I believe today in the court we've quite clearly witnessed a system that's out of touch with the wishes of the public at large.
"We know that society is absolutely abhorred by the likes of Paul Dally and Taffy Hotene [Kylie Jones' killer]. In the mitigating circumstances, he should have walked free out of that court."
Middleton faces a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.
Defence lawyer Keith Jefferies said Karla Cardno's mother, Veronica, was upset but not shocked by the verdicts.
"She finds it difficult to cope with the memories but she's quite philosophical about this case. She understood that [custody] could well be a consequence."
By JO-MARIE BROWN