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Heated scenes after man found guilty of car murders

Last updated 00:00 27/09/2007

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Ugly scenes erupted in court today after a man who drove his car into a crowd last year, killing two people and injuring two others, was found guilty of murder.

Darin Gardner, 25, was found guilty on two counts of murder arising from an incident outside a 21st birthday party in the Auckland suburb of Pakuranga in October.

During a 2½-week trial in the High Court at Auckland, he was alleged to have twice driven into a group of people who were fighting early on October 8.

Early childhood teacher Melissa Viall, 23, was killed instantly when she was hit while going to the aid of a friend, Kane Wright, who had been knocked down by the car.

Mr Wright, 19, died in hospital the next day.

But the defence had argued that Gardner was trying to help one of his own friends, Anton Degraaff, who was being attacked and who he thought was going to be killed.

After the jury verdicts were delivered and Justice Hugh Williams had left the packed courtroom, abuse was hurled at Gardner as he was being taken from the dock to the cells.

When Gardner's supporters responded, there was a heated exchange of words between the parties, and police and court staff moved in to ease tensions.

In preparation for the delivery of the verdicts, arrived at after the jury had deliberated for 12 hours, court staff set up security precautions outside the courtroom.

All bags were searched and everyone was screened with a metal detector.

Justice Williams said emotional reactions were inevitable in criminal trials and he asked those in the public gallery to show restraint when the jury foreman delivered the verdicts.

His advice was largely heeded, with only cries of "yes" being heard when the murder verdicts were read out.

The jury also found Gardner guilty of two charges of intent to cause grievous bodily harm and two of injuring with intent.

Degraaff was found guilty of two charges of injuring with intent, but another man, James Rixon, was acquitted of the same offences.

None of the three showed any emotion.

Gardiner and Degraaff were remanded in custody for sentencing on November 16.

Mr Wright's mother, Sharon Wright, said outside the court that justice had been done.

"Justice has been done for Kane and Melissa, but it's not enough," she said.

She called for a life sentence for Gardner, saying it should be a case of "a life for a life", and she wasn't prepared to accept an apology from him or his family.

"It means nothing, if it had been forthcoming," she said.

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"Every parent supports their kid but they had the wrong attitude from the start, all of them," she added, without elaborating.

Gardner's family and supporters made no comment as they left the court house.

- NZPA

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