'Drugs at centre of bloodshed'

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 12/05/2011
TARANAKI DAILY NEWS ONLINE

The "body-in-the-garage" murder trial began in the High Court at New Plymouth today.

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A dispute over drug money led to Dean Browne's violent death at the hands of a group who called themselves the Killer Clown Fiends, a New Plymouth court heard yesterday.

The Crown alleges that in the close-knit gang's Oriental Bay flat in Wellington on January 21 last year, the 38-year-old Aucklander was bashed to death with a claw hammer, strangled, then given morphine.

His hog-tied and wrapped-up body was then driven to New Plymouth where it was dumped in a Drake St garage, Crown prosecutor Justin Marinovich told the jury during the murder trial in the High Court.

The Crown would call nearly 100 witnesses to prove that Mikhail Pandey-Johnson, 23, Rhys Fournier, 22, and Karl Nuku 19, plotted to murder Mr Browne, Mr Marinovich said.

On the first day of the trial, Justice Mark Woolford allowed the Taranaki Daily News to record the opening addresses.

It is believed to be a first in a Taranaki courtroom.

The Crown says Pandey-Johnson ordered the hit, carried out by Nuku and Fournier, because Mr Browne was applying pressure to be repaid for drug sales.

"It was the souring of that business association that resulted in Dean Browne becoming the target," Mr Marinovich said.

The killing was also fuelled by the perception that Mr Browne had sexually mistreated a girlfriend in the gang.

For Pandey-Johnson, Paul Keegan said his client did not murder Mr Browne.

The jury would hear factually complex and conflicting evidence in the "whodunit" case and should keep an open mind, Mr Keegan said.

" He [Pandey-Johnson] did not plot to kill Dean Browne and did not order his friends to kill him. That Dean Browne was murdered is not in dispute," Mr Keegan said.

However, Pandey-Johnson did acknowledge being an accessory to murder in moving the body but he was not charged with that offence, Mr Keegan said.

Andrew Laurenson, for Nuku, repeated that Nuku had neither participated in the murder nor entered into any plot. But Nuku also admitted moving the body.

Rather, it was Crown witness 29 (whose name is suppressed) who gave the morphine to Mr Browne, delivering the "coup de grace".

For Fournier, Susan Hughes, QC, said her client had taken no part in the murder but had helped with the clean-up of the Oriental Bay flat. "But a murderer he is not."

The jury would find witness 29's evidence self-serving and lacking credibility, Ms Hughes said.

"Why did she administer morphine – and on a previous occasion?" Ms Hughes asked.

The first two witnesses for the Crown were Mr Browne's stepfather, Ronald Bishop, and Mr Browne's older brother, Lee Browne, both of Auckland.

A friend of Dean Browne's, Sarah Owst, was also among witnesses who gave evidence yesterday.

She told of meeting Pandey-Johnson, whom she knew as Casper, Nuku, known as Little C, and Fournier, or Tex, and of their colourful appearance.

Casper had blond dreadlocks and facial piercing.

She told how Pandey-Johnson showed her their "Killer Clown Fiends" patches worn on their boots or jeans.

Ms Owst admitted supplying methamphetamine to Mr Browne and the accused a couple of times. She was given immunity from prosecution, she said.

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She said Pandey-Johnson was selling meth up and down the country because he was getting a better price than in Auckland, Ms Owst said.

- The Dominion Post

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