A barman who hurled a glass at the gunman who had stormed into the Red Fox Tavern "stood no chance" as he was shot in the chest with a sawn off double-barrelled shotgun, a court has heard.
A jury has heard the opening arguments in the trial of two men accused of being behind the infamous fatal tavern robbery in Maramarua in 1987.
Mark Joseph Hoggart, 60, and a man with name suppression are jointly charged with the aggravated robbery and murder of its publican, Christopher Bush, on the night of October 24.
It is alleged cheques and cash to the value of just over $36,000 were stolen in the armed hold-up.
Both accused men deny the charges.
Crown prosecutor Ned Fletcher said back then the Red Fox Tavern was a flourishing pub for locals and passersby with a carpark as big as the proverbial football field.
It had a TAB where patrons could put bets on horses, he said.
That particular October 24 was the Saturday of Labour Weekend 1987.
Bush, who had been the tavern's publican for nearly five years, was widely respected.
"He was a good publican. He ran a tight ship," Fletcher said.
After the patrons had left, the "no-nonsense" 43-year-old was having a drink with three staff members; Sherryn Soppet, Stephanie Prisk and William Wilson.
Kahlua, Southern Comfort and milk for the women and half-pint beer handles for the men.
Fletcher said without any warning two heavily disguised intruders, clad in balaclavas and gloves, burst in using a back door.
The one wearing overalls zipped up to the neck was carrying a baseball bat - possibly one with a wooden handle and metal tip, he said.
The other man was armed with a sawn off double-barrelled shotgun. The Crown alleges this was the defendant who has name suppression.
"This trial is about these two intruders and what they did next," Fletcher said.
"It all happened very quickly."
The gunman seemed to have yelled something to the effect of: "This is an armed hold-up."
Bush was holding his beer handle and hurled it towards the gunman, the prosecutor said.
At the same time, the gunman - standing only three to five metres away - pulled the trigger.
"He [Bush] seemed to have just enough time to lift his left arm to shield his face but this was no protection."
Bush was struck full-on in the upper left side of his chest and under his arm.
A "tightly clustered grouping" of 215 shot-gun pellet strikes pierced his chest cavity, lungs and heart.
"He stood no chance."
One of the staff members was told to look in Bush's pockets for the keys to his office which housed the safe.
While she was doing this, the gunman allegedly swore at and kicked Bush.
The key was later unearthed in a drawer and the offenders made off with more than $36,000 in cheques and cash, the court heard.
Fletcher said the staff who had been tied up were told not to move for eight minutes otherwise the offenders would hear over a radio.
It was a largely circumstantial case but there were several reasons the Crown was sure it had the right men in the dock, he said.
The descriptions of the offenders were consistent with the accused and they had the motivation - they were broke and needed money, he said.
Claims about their whereabouts that night could not be corroborated, he said.
The duo's movements either side of that fatal night were also consistent with the Crown's case, he said.
Defence says innocent men are on trial
Tauranga defence lawyer Craig Tuck said Hoggart had consistently maintained he was never there.
"This case is one of New Zealand's long-standing and terrible mysteries," Tuck said.
"It is a 35-year-old tragic whodunnit, that's what it is."
Wellington defence lawyer Christopher Stevenson, representing the other defendant, said the two men were innocent.
"I am very sorry to say that nearly 35 years later this case is still unresolved," he said.
"The wrong people have been put on trial."
The prosecution was built on a witness who was trying to gain benefit, he said.
"They have fabricated and they have lied for their own selfish reasons.
"That's the reality of why we are here all these years later."
The jury trial presided over by Justice Mark Woolford continues tomorrow with witness evidence.