Newcastle man Benjamin Batterham has been found not guilty of murdering burglar Ricky Slater, 34, after a home invasion of his family house in the suburb of Hamilton.
Mr Batterham, 36, was charged after Mr Slater broke into his home in the NSW Hunter Valley on the 2016 Easter weekend to steal a handbag.
The homeowner, who was drinking beer to celebrate his birthday, chased Mr Slater for 330m and tackled him with a headlock, reports News.com.au.
During the struggle, Mr Batterham was bitten twice, had his tooth chipped and cheekbone injured, but Mr Slater lost consciousness and was taken to John Hunter Hospital in a critical condition.
First charged with recklessly inflict grievous bodily harm, Mr Batterham's charge was upgraded to murder after Mr Slater's life support was switched off and he was imprisoned.
The case sparked a "Free Ben Batterham" campaign and public debate by self-defence advocates about homeowners rights to protect themselves.
The grieving family of Mr Slater, a convicted rapist, burglar and drug addict, argued an innocent man had been deliberately slain.
Released from Cessnock maximum security prison on bail in May 2016, Mr Batterham went to trial for murder in the Newcastle Supreme Court early this month.
The Crown's case was that Mr Batterham intended to murder Mr Slater, crossing a threshold when he chased the burglar from his house, put him in a chokehold and repeatedly punched him.
Crown Prosecutor Wayne Creasey told the trial before Justice Desmond Fagan that it was within Mr Batterham's rights to chase and detain Slater.
But that he "went completely over the top" and choked Slater to death.
Played the triple-0 emergency call, the jury was told by Mr Creasey that the accused had discovered Mr Slater hiding in bushes after the chase.
"You would have heard the deceased struggling underneath him and saying 'I cannot breathe'," Mr Creasey said.
He said the "sustained nature of the assault" was demonstrated by what could be heard in the emergency call.
The Crown alleged that during the call be Mr Batterham could be heard saying words like
"mother****er" and "c**ksucker" and "you piece of s**t".
Groans and screaming could then be heard, as the emergency telephone operator asked Mr Batterham for information.
Members of Mr Salter's family, including his mother Beryl Dickson, sat through the trial, sometimes weeping in court.
Former Detective Inspector Peter Mahon, who as at the time one of Newcastle's most senior officers, witnessed the struggle.
He told the court he was worried Slater would've died if Mr Batterham did not get off him.
But Winston Terracini, SC for Mr Batterham, questioned Mr Mahon's reliability, saying he had drunk alcohol before the incident.
Also in question was what actually caused Slater's death.
Mr Creasey said it did not matter if medical experts were divided over what exactly caused Mr Slater's death, because Mr Batterham's actions contributed to it significantly.
He said manual strangulation causing multiple organ failure after three cardiac arrests, was to blame.
But Mr Terracini said the level of methamphetamine in Slater's system at the time was lethal, and that he also had a heart condition and was obese.
Ricky Slater weighed 118kg at the time of his death, and had 0.71 milligrams per litre of ice in his system.
Senior forensic pathologist Dr Johan Duflou, the state's top clinician in his field, said research showed levels of 0.54 milligrams per litre had been attributed to causing death.
The court heard Slater had died from multiple organ failure, which Dr Duflou said could not solely be blamed on drug toxicity.
"There are multiple possible causes and they may all have interacted in some way or an other," he said.
"But there is always a possibility there was a single cause.
"I believe they all probably interacted in some way.
"I would include methamphetamine toxicity, I would include the fact that the deceased was held in a face down, prone restraint position, and if there was neck compression."
The jury was read a letter written by Mr Batterham, in which he wrote, "I am not guilty".
"I never intended to cause Mr Slater any serious harm," he wrote.
"I wanted to apprehend him and get back was stolen.
"I admit I was angry and I hit him, but I was only trying to keep him from getting away.
"He was constantly struggling and fighting, he bit me on the right arm.
"All I wanted was for him was to stop."
The jury believed him.