Jury left with little choice

After four weeks of evidence, it seemed Ewen Macdonald had the motive, opportunity and the means to kill Scott Guy. Despite that, the circumstantial case was lacking the smoking gun that would prove Macdonald was a killer. Jimmy Ellingham, who sat through every day of the murder trial, gives his analysis.

Everyone in the High Court at Wellington must have felt pangs of sympathy for Scott Guy's distraught widow, Kylee.

After the verdict was delivered, she ran from the court shouting: ``He killed my husband.''

Unfortunately for her, the circumstantial case presented by the Crown was successfully defended by lawyers Greg King, Liam Collins and Palmerston North barrister Peter Coles.

Macdonald never looked more guilty than when he was interviewed by police on April 7 last year, the day of his arrest.

``I can see the finger points at me... but I'm not that blimmin' psycho,'' he said after admitting torching an old house in October 2008 and vandalising the inside of a new house in January 2009, on the Guys' side of the family farm.

Justice France warned the jury that while this offending showed what Macdonald was capable of, it didn't prove he was a murderer.

Most interesting was the way he stuck to his initial lies about where he was on the nights of the arson and vandalism.

Police detectives Laurie Howell and Glen Jackson kept asking, but Macdonald stood firm. He slept through the night of the fire and was up north when the Guys' new house was targeted, he said.

Only when confronted with a statement from former farm worker Callum Boe did Macdonald confess, and he did so reluctantly.

``If he was with you during any of the offending and he told the truth about it, what do you think he said?'' Mr Howell asked.

``That he had nothing to do with it,'' Macdonald said.

``He didn't say that, what do you think he said?''

``He said he was probably involved.''

It seemed Macdonald admitted to crimes only when backed into a corner, and on the murder charge, that never happened.

His explanation for the arson seemed disingenuous at best.

``It wasn't directed at Scott or Kylee in vengeance or revenge,'' Macdonald said. ``It certainly wasn't that.''

Even if that was a lie, too, it still didn't prove that Macdonald pulled the trigger on July 8, 2010.

At least he was honest about the vandalism and graffiti on the Guys' new house.

Crudely painted writing called Mrs Guy a ``bitch slapper'' and was the result of Mr Guy telling a family farm meeting the year before that he should inherit the land from his father.

The Crown says Mr Guy's shock announcement was effectively his ``death warrant''.

Added to that was Macdonald's frustration about workloads.

As dairy manager he had early starts and sometimes late finishes.

Mr Guy was cropping and dry-stock manager and wouldn't work the same hours.

Even though their pay was equalised, they were given shareholdings, and Mr Guy was added to the milking roster, Macdonald was still bitter.

``I was still holding a bit of a grudge. It wasn't a fair partnership, just with the hours I had to work, and I didn't get to spend as much time at home with the kids, whereas Scott got a lot more home time.

``I was working my arse off and it wasn't equal the hours we worked,'' Macdonald said.

Little wonder Macdonald wasn't called to give evidence. He would have been asked over and over again to explain his lies.

Mr King told the jury that Macdonald's offending had been against property.

It was an important point.

As was the fact that after the vandalism, Macdonald apparently felt terrible and did his best to restore relations with the Guys, bar one outburst at a family dinner in late 2009.

Other than that, all the evidence pointed toward Macdonald and Mr Guy getting on better, particularly after a trip to a dairy conference in Invercargill in June 2010.

That made the Crown's motive outdated, Mr King said.

The Crown argued that anger festered and bubbled over again in 2010 when plans for the future of the family farm were revealed, making Macdonald feel insecure.

As was the case throughout the trial, both sides were speculating and the jury really had no evidence either way.

Mr King said Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk's closing four-hour statement included only 20 minutes of evidence, with the rest being speculation.

For example, the Crown concluded that Macdonald bicycled up jland down the road on the morning of July 8, 2010, to kill Mr Guy.

That was the mode of transport he used when committing the arson and vandalism, but there was no evidence of bike tracks around the murder scene.

Similarly, it was said the farm shotgun could not be ruled out as a murder weapon.

As Macdonald was overheard saying after Mr Guy's death, shotguns are virtually untraceable.

While the farm gun might have been the murder weapon, so might some of the guns stolen from the rural Manawatu area in the lead-up to Mr Guy's death, as the defence pointed out.

Foot impressions were the only piece of physical evidence supposedly linking Macdonald to the murder scene, and the defence did a good job of muddying the waters on that subject.

The footprints were made by Proline dive boots, the same type as Macdonald's father Kerry sold at his Hunting and Fishing shop in Palmerston North.

Financial records show Macdonald probably bought a pair there in early 2004 and photos from hunting trips in the following years show Macdonald wearing a pair of Prolines.

Macdonald's wife, Anna, thought she threw one ``scungy'' old boot out when they moved house in 2008, but Macdonald's mother Marlene remembered seeing one at the new house.

It hadn't been sighted for a couple of years though, forcing the Crown to speculate that it was hidden somewhere.

There was no evidence to back this up.

Forensic scientist David Neale told the court prints found at the scene seemed to be size nine  Macdonald's shoe size.

Mr King made him count the number of ridges in the wavy patterns on soles of Proline boots, casting doubt that the impressions were made by size nines.

The boots theory was up in the air, despite Mr Neale saying different batches could have had different markings.

In his closing, Mr Vanderkolk said Macdonald could have worn different sized boots, but Mr King dismissed that. By the time the pair made their closing submissions the Crown had settled on saying the boots were sizes nine or 10, the defence said sizes 11 or 12.

By then the size didn't matter; the defence had succeeded in sowing doubt into a crucial aspect of the case.

The day of the shooting, Macdonald was said to have let his guard down when he argued with the man who found Mr Guy's body, David Berry, about the manner of death.

Mr Berry thought his throat had been slit, but Macdonald told him no, he was shot.

Mr Guy's sister, Nikki, said she heard that conversation, but Mr Berry didn't think it was Macdonald who had corrected him.

The Crown said if Macdonald had been innocent he would  never have been close enough to Mr Guy's body to know what happened.

Mr King said if Macdonald had bothered to cover his tracks so well at the crime scene, he wouldn't then undo all that good work.

``If you're the killer, if you're the man who shot Scott Guy, why in the realm of Christendom would you correct people? It's ridiculous.''

Leaving aside the strange language, Mr King is right.

And the defence was on strong ground in raising doubt about the time of death. By the end of the trial, probably nobody was sure when Mr Guy was shot.

The Crown fixed the time of death at 4.43am, based on him last touching his computer at 4.41am and taking a couple of minutes to get in his ute and drive down his driveway.

Mr King said Mr Guy could have taken more time drinking coffee or on some other morning activity.

Three of the four neighbours called by the Crown said they were woken by something at 5am.

Only Derek Sharpe thought he was woken at 4.45am, but the defence questioned the reliability of his time keeping.

If the shots were at or very close to 5am, Macdonald could not have been the killer because he deactivated an alarm at a farm building down the road at 5.02am.

During their investigation, police eliminated 60 people of interest from their inquiries.

A man with name suppression was given an alibi by his partner, who had a P habit that cost thousands of dollars a week and who was ``wasted'' on the night of the murder.

The man was that night involved in a burglary where Winfield Gold cigarettes were taken. A packet of that brand was found near the murder scene.

The defence didn't suggest a motive for the man to kill Mr Guy,  but again, it created doubt.

Mr King also spoke about farm worker Simon Asplin's behaviour around the time Mr Guy died.

Mr Asplin admitted he didn't like Mr Guy and while he was never asked if he was the killer, Mr King used him as an example of how someone's actions could be made to ``look sinister''.

One of the more persuasive arguments was that by 2010, Macdonald was over his anger toward Mr Guy and had other options in life aside from the Byreburn farm.

His Farmer of the Year success made him hot property and he could have found work elsewhere, Mr King said.

``The problems of the past were just that, in the past, ancient history,'' he said.

``You've seen Mrs Macdonald. You've seen photos of their idyllic country home. Why would he do it? Why would he throw it away?''

While Macdonald is a liar, an arsonist and a vandal, it would have been a step too far to say he is a killer.

Even after four weeks nobody knows whether he is ``that blimmin' psycho''.

The jury had little room to do anything but acquit.

Manawatu Standard