A man who had his murder conviction for the killing of his best friend quashed has lost his bid to the Supreme Court to make the Crown prosecutor pay half of the costs.
David Owen Lyttle was convicted of murdering his friend Brett Hall after a lengthy jury trial in the Whanganui District Court and was jailed for 11 years.
It was alleged he shot Hall and disposed of his body, which has never been found, and admitted the killing to an undercover officer who had pretended to befriend him on a fishing trip as part of a sting known as "Mr Big".
Hall appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal - as he has always maintained his innocence - and was granted a retrial.
He ultimately had his conviction dismissed due to a lack of evidence and a large number of delays in bringing his case to trial in which both police and Crown were slammed by various high court judges.
After it was adjourned for the second time, the High Court justice slammed the failures saying, "the reality that incorrect assurances have been given in several areas on several occasions, including to the court on oath, only to be followed by large tranches of disclosure, all point to a serious systematic failure".
In December last year, Justice Simon France threw out the murder charge due to the ongoing issues which involved the repeated withholding of critical information, including highly exculpatory material.
In acquitting Hall, he found the defence case Hall was killed by his drug dealing associates more compelling than the prosecution theory Lyttle was responsible.
Lyttle then applied to the High Court for $150,000 in costs against the prosecutor for the repeated failings. The court made an order of $75,000 against the police, not the Crown.
He went to the Court of Appeal, however it ruled the female prosecutor wasn't personally to blame for the disclosure failings, before applying to the Supreme Court.
In its decision this week, Supreme Court Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann and Justice Mark O'Regan stated its only consideration was whether the Crown prosecutor should have been made to pay half of the costs award.
Lyttle disputed the admissibility of admissions he made to police in their "Mr Big" style operation - in which undercover officers were in a "fake gang" and recruited Lyttle, in which he would later say he did kill the 47-year-old - as well as proposed evidence from a jailhouse informant, which was ultimately not used by the crown.
He also submitted the Court of Appeal erred in failing to recognise the judiciary's role in incentivising the procedural obligations of the crown.
Although accepting the failures in his case were "serious and repeated" and had a significant impact on the proceedings, the Supreme Court justices found both the High Court and Court of Appeal had already found the failures should rest with police.
"There are, therefore, concurrent findings of fact to that effect.
"In those circumstances, we are not satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to grant leave for an appeal to this court in which the essential issue would be a challenge to the factual findings made in the courts below ... rather than an evaluation of an issue of principle relating to disclosure obligations."
Brett Hall disappears without a trace
Lyttle and Hall had known each other for many years and were good friends - Lyttle was the best man at Hall's wedding.
In late 2010 and early 2011, Lyttle was building a house for Hall on a remote property north of Whanganui.
Lyttle was given cash by Hall to buy building materials and was to be paid for his labour once the building was at the "lock-up stage".
The Crown contended that Lyttle was in financial difficulty and had been using the cash for his own personal use.
They claimed Hall was angry about that and there was an argument at the building site on May 27, 2011.
The Crown alleged Lyttle shot Hall that day and disposed of his body elsewhere.
Lyttle always denied his involvement in his death and suggested that Hall may have met his death at the hands of his drug-dealing associates and this was put forward as a reasonable possibility in his defence at trial.
Hall was on parole for drug offending at the time of his death and had been the victim of violence and threats from people involved in the drug world some years earlier.
Hall remained involved in drugs and with drug associates after his release on parole to some degree and the remote property which he lived was part-owned by one of those associates.
The "Mr Big" sting began with Lyttle "winning" a fishing trip off the coast of Wellington, during which he became friendly with an undercover police officer.
During the next two months, Lyttle met with him more than 20 times to take part in mock criminal behaviour, from casing a gun store for possible burglary, to conducting drug deals in the Hutt Valley.
Every interaction the two had was recorded.
Three months after they'd met, Lyttle was given a meeting with the head of the mock criminal syndicate, in which he confessed to killing Hall.
The officer had urged Lyttle to be honest and upfront prior to the meeting, and Lyttle said he had done that when they met up again afterwards.
He detailed the murder again to the undercover officer after his meeting.
Hall's body has never been found.
This story was originally published on July 6th but has since been updated to clarify there were several reasons why David Lyttle's murder conviction was quashed, including the fact a judge found the defence case that Hall was killed by his drug dealing associates was more compelling than the prosecution theory Lyttle was responsible.