A black hat worn to a 21st birthday party sparked the disagreement that led to a man's alleged murder later that night, a court has been told.
Two men and a teenager are on trial charged with the murder of 31-year-old Jamaine Wharton, who died of blood loss from being stabbed three times in February last year.
Roger Tutakangahau, 25, Billie-Dean Raina, 20, and a 17-year-old whose identity is suppressed appeared before a jury and High Court Justice Paul Davison in Rotorua yesterday.The prosecution alleges the group assaulted and stabbed Wharton near the Waiohau Rugby Club, 40km south of Whakatāne.
The accused and the victim were at the club for an associate's 21st birthday party.
Opening the Crown's case, prosecutor Duncan McWilliam outlined the prosecution's version of events on the night Wharton died: February 28.
The group were at the party, when defendant Tutakangahau spotted Wharton who was wearing a black cap.
"For some reason, that caused offence for Tutakangahau. [Tutakangahau] confronted him and called him a n*****", which is a term used in an offensive way to reference Black Power members," McWilliam said.
McWilliam claimed Wharton had no affiliation to any gang but that the defendants were associated with the Mongrel Mob.
McWilliam said Wharton responded by asking Tutakangahau to "show some respect for the whenua", but the confrontation continued. The evening progressed, and as alcohol was consumed, tensions grew higher.
"This tension got the point the defendant [Tutakangahau] jumped across the table to assault Mr Wharton, punching him in the face two or three times."
According to McWilliam, the confrontation then moved into the clubroom kitchen where Raina and the youth defendant joined in. A brawl ensued as other partygoers attempted to break it up.
"Wharton was able to escape out through a side door. He was followed by the three defendants. He was chased outside the clubrooms to the road, and up the road towards the local urupa."
Witnesses described hearing Tutakangahau yelling: "Get him dog, get him."
It's at that point the Crown alleges Wharton was stabbed three times. One of the wounds punctured his lung, while another punctured his liver. All three defendants assaulted Wharton, the Crown alleges.
Wharton was rushed to Whakatāne Hospital in the back of a ute, but was pronounced dead on arrival.
"The culpable homicide of Jamaine Wharton was committed during the assaults on the road," McWilliam said.
All three defendants have pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. Their defence lawyers gave brief statements on Monday.
Acting for the teenage defendant, lawyer Roger Gowing said the fundamental consideration for the jury is whether or not his client had an intent to kill Wharton.
"This will require you to pay attention to what occurred prior to the stabbing," he said.
Robert Stevens, acting for Raina, made a similar submission on the importance of examining intent.
Bill Nabney, acting for Tutakangahau, said the main consideration of the jury in regards to his client was whether he knew one of his co-defendants was in possession of a knife.
The trial continues. It is expected to last three weeks.