Police stand by a decision to pursue murder charges over the death of journalist Phillip Cottrell, even though one young defendant has walked free and another has been found guilty of manslaughter.
Nicho Allan Waipuka, 20, was acquitted of murder in the High Court at Wellington yesterday, but found guilty of manslaughter.
Waipuka offered in March to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge. In a formal admission during his trial, Waipuka agreed the assault had been "wholly unprovoked". He admitted punching Mr Cottrell once in the jaw and taking his wallet, containing $80.
Manuel Renera Robinson, 18, was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter. He did not want to comment and slipped out a side door at court.
Mr Cottrell, 43, came to New Zealand from Britain about 2006.
He worked as a bulletin editor at Radio New Zealand and travelled frequently.
He died from severe head injuries the day after he was attacked while walking home from work about 5.30am on December 10 last year.
His sister, Sue Hollows, said after the trial her brother had been taken "in the most tragic of circumstances in an unnecessary and unprovoked attack".
"Nothing would have brought Phillip back. However, we are extremely disappointed with the outcome."
Ms Hollows had to endure watching her brother die a slow death, her husband, Heath, said.
"In the hospital for 17 hours, I watched my wife hold Phillip's hand and the next day he died.
"It took him over an hour and a half - it's just so traumatic.
"We don't hold it against the jury. It's just the system and we are a little disappointed the streets aren't any safer than they were a year ago," Mr Hollows said.
The officer in charge of the case, Detective Senior Sergeant Scott Miller, was also disappointed with the outcome of the trial.
But he said pursuing a murder charge was the right decision, despite Waipuka's offer of admitting manslaughter.
"I think that, with the investigation and the evidence that we had, particularly around the admissions of both accused, this needed to go to the jury."
It had been "quite a difficult" case, he said. "We don't normally have differing expert evidence.
"We had to go and arrest five or six witnesses who didn't want to come to court, and there was a lot of changing of the evidence of those witnesses, which made things quite complex for us."
Mr Cottrell had a brittle bones condition and doctors disagreed on whether the extent of his bone fractures could have been caused by falling on to concrete after a single punch, as Waipuka claimed.
Some witnesses had earlier made statements to police saying both Waipuka and Robinson admitted kicking Mr Cottrell, but they backed away from those statements when the time came for them to give evidence in court.
Neither lawyers nor family of the two accused would comment outside court. Waipuka is in custody until sentencing in February.
TERRIBLE TWISTS OF FATE ENDED IN CBD DEATH
Phil Cottrell was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong bones.
The sun was rising on December 10 last year when he stepped from a back entrance of Radio New Zealand's building in The Terrace and began the walk to his flat in nearby Victoria St.
Before leaving for home he had spent a little extra time to plan his next overseas trip. He had a brittle bone disease, but his bones had not stopped him visiting 73 countries.
That night, a friend had paid him $80 for duty-free alcohol he brought back for her.
He did not usually carry much cash, and it was all the money he had when his brown leather wallet was snatched minutes later by Nicho Waipuka.
At 5.37am Mr Cottrell passed a security camera in Boulcott St just over 30 metres from where he was attacked.
Waipuka, then 19, and Manuel Robinson, 17, should have been at their homes in the Hutt Valley by then. The man who was to have given them a ride said he waited for an hour and a half, texting to find out where they were. In the end, he drove home without them.
The attack on Mr Cottrell was over in seconds, whether it was the one punch Waipuka admitted, or punches and a swift kick or kicks, as the Crown alleged.
Part of Mr Cottrell's skull shattered into more than 20 pieces, and fractures radiated out across the remainder. The bones of his spine closest to his skull were crunched, and one of his elbows had broken into bits.
Two doctors thought he had been kicked. The pathologist thought all the injuries could have been the result of a single blow that felled Mr Cottrell so that his head hit rough concrete beside the Baptist Church.
Evidence suggested both Robinson and Waipuka had been in an argumentative mood with strangers earlier that morning.
Before they headed into Wellington about midnight, Waipuka had been drinking and spoiling for a fight, saying he wanted "rumbles". Robinson, club-footed and almost illiterate, was keener to see his sister's friend, who he had not realised was a prostitute.
The pair had visited the flat in The Terrace that was being used by the woman, and were heading back there when they came across Mr Cottrell.
The sight of him, a slight 1.71 metres tall and 74.5 kilograms, drew at least Waipuka back to the church side of the road. Moments before, Waipuka had called out to one early-morning worker, "What the f… you looking at?"
- The Dominion Post