A jury in the High Court at Rotorua have taken one and a half hours today to find Carlos Uerata and Zyla Butler not guilty of the manslaughter of Neville Butler.
When their trial began in the High Court at Rotorua on Monday, the pair denied the charge which alleged their actions led to Butler's death in September 2017 at a flat in Rotorua's Steeles Lane.
They were being tried by a jury of six men and six women.
Closing addresses are being delivered today by the Crown prosecutor Duncan McWilliam and their lawyers.
McWilliam said this morningthe Crown case was simple, it was that Uerata and Zyla Butler caused her uncle's death by deliberate and dangerous acts. In Uerata's case this was him putting Butler in a choke hold and Zyla Butler pinning his arms down.
This had been an uninterrupted chain of events starting with the compression of Butler's neck and carotid arteries, a fact corroborated by a pathologist who found extensive bruising in that area.
"It all leads back to the squeezing of the neck, there was alcohol involved, cannabis, Mr Butler was overweight, these were the mechanisms, the cause of death was neck compression and restraint," McWilliam argued.
Butler, a 120kg man, could not break free from the choke hold being applied by someone of 60kg as would be expected because his niece was holding him down, something she admitted to police but denied in evidence.
Uerata knew choking-out was an inherently dangerous act but did it regardless.
McWilliam poured cold water on defence evidence that pointed to Butler suffering from a delirium syndrome which caused him to act irrationally after drinking heavily at his niece's 21st birthday celebrations.
"It was just Neville Butler behaving badly, like an alpha male, kicking things around, breaking furniture ... it was just Neville Butler with too much alcohol on board."
He called Uerata's credibility into question, pointing to his inability to remember details when he questioned him following his sworn testimony.
"No doubt what happened was a tragedy for this family but it wasn't an accident. These were deliberate, dangerous acts taken by these two, which is what makes this a manslaughter not a premeditated murder," McWilliam submitted, inviting the jury to return guilty verdicts against both defendants.
Defence counsel, Bill Lawson, disputed the Crown's claim 26-year-old Uerata had applied a neck hold to Neville Butler for no apparent reason, saying he had done so because he had no choice but to protect his partner.
Butler, a big man, had pulled Zyla Butler onto a couch and ignored her when she told him he was hurting her. "His knee was on her, his hand was holding her down, according to the Crown this is not an assault but the law says it is, that is common sense, the reason you [the jury] are here."
He emphasised that in law an assault was justified if a person was acting in self defence or in the defence of another.
Lawson claimed it was obvious Uerata had no choice but try to remove Butler as he had because there was no other way he could have done it.
He hadn't used a weapon, stabbed him with a knife, smashed him with a bottle or a piece of furniture but made a split-second decision in the circumstances as he saw them unfold.
It was obvious Butler's bad behaviour was amping up, culminating in him being on top of his niece.
"That is just not all right, he had to act, he was defending his partner, obviously he wouldn't be doing it for no reason," Lawson told the jury.
Uerata accepted he had lied to police, the reason for this was he panicked, thought he would get into trouble and distraught with grief all of which affected the clarity of his thinking.
Regardless, the evidence he'd given on oath was the truth.
He reiterated Uerata acted in self defence and in defence of Zyla Butler when he put the choke hold on her uncle which made a verdict of not guilty the only correct verdict.
The Queens Counsel acting for Zyla Butler, Philip Morgan, echoed Lawson's argument that Uerata had acted in self defence and in defence of his then 21-year-old partner.
He questioned the validity of the findings of the pathologist the Crown called that the most likely possibility of Butler's death was that it had been caused by asphyxiation, secondary to having his neck compressed. He argued there was every likelihood it had been caused by excited delirium syndrome a professor described in evidence.
Among its symptoms are displays of sudden, wild behaviour as Butler had the night he died. The professor had testified for the defence via audio visual link from Australia.
Morgan asked the jury to start their deliberations by focusing on what he called "this critical issue".
Turning to a police interview with Zyla Butler only a few hours after her uncle was pronounced dead, Morgan said she had undergone it when she was stressed and exhausted from virtually no sleep over two days and nights.
He noted she had nodded off several times, once saying she may be repeating what she was dreaming about and was hearing voices. Asked if she wanted to stop the interview she'd insisted on continuing.
Portions of the DVD recording of the interview were replayed to the jury, as was a hysterical 111 call she made begging for an ambulance to be sent to assess her uncle who appeared to be asleep but not breathing.
Counsel pinpointed a portion of the police interview in which Zyla Butler said she'd pinned her uncle's arms down when Uerata put the choke hold on him, reminding jurors she had denied this in evidence.
"Look very carefully at the account she gave police," Morgan urged. "She was drunk, unbelievably tired, guilt ridden, grief stricken and thinking to herself it would be better for her to take some of the responsibility for Butler's death away from her partner."
She had done this to protect Uerata, claiming he'd done this sort of thing (the choke hold) previously and no one had died.
He urged the jury to return a not guilty verdict on Butler's behalf.
After the jury had returned with its not guilty verdict, Justice Lang discharged the pair.
He thanked the jury saying the case had been a tragic one for all concerned.