Guilty verdict in hitman plot
It might not have been a house to die for, but for Alan Barlow, it was certainly a house to kill for.
Barlow, 43, was found guilty of attempting to procure the murder of his parents, Diana Noeleen Barlow and Kevin James Barlow, at Rotorua High Court yesterday, with the jury taking just over an hour to record a unanimous guilty verdict.
Barlow, a Tauranga resident, remained emotionless as the verdict was delivered.
Over two days the Court heard a story of toxic family relations, property disputes and, eventually, a plan to recruit a hitman to conduct two murders.
The court was told the murder-for-hire plot commenced in August last year when Barlow contacted distant relative Daniel Ryder via Facebook.
Believing he had underworld contacts, Barlow provided Ryder with the names of his parents and alleged they were mistreating children in their care.
"Alan used the word kill," Ryder told the court.
"At this stage I got scared. I'm not a murderer, not a hitman, so I called the police."
Ryder's call to the police set the wheels in motion for a sting operation involving an undercover special operations policeman who contacted Barlow via phone, a conversation the police recorded and played to the jury.
"My name is John and I understand you have a problem in Invercargill. I fix those kinds of problems for people. Do you understand what I'm talking about?"
Over the course of subsequent phone conversations, all recorded by the police, Barlow explained just what he wanted.
"I need these two out of my life totally. Gone," he said.
"I don't want it to look suspicious. Just bang."
The court was also shown covert surveillance film of a meeting between ‘John' and Barlow, recorded in ‘John's' car at the McDonalds carpark in Huntly.
During that meeting Barlow provided ‘John' with a hand-drawn map of his parents' home, marked with an X for their bedroom, and he offered information on his parents' movements and security at the property.
When asked whether the killings should be quick and painless, or slow and painful, Barlow said he wanted the murders to look "accidental."
Giving evidence, ‘John' was questioned by defence lawyer Craig Tuck over whether Barlow was at any stage cautioned or read his rights.
"It's a generally understood part of undercover work that you don't identify yourself as a policeman," said 'John'.
"To do so would make a nonsense of the undercover role."
The jury was also shown footage of the police interview when Criminal Investigation Branch Detective Logan Nicholas told Barlow of the existence of the surveillance footage, a revelation that prompted denials from Barlow.
"It's very strange the idea that someone would want to kill them. Especially myself," he said.
"I do not want to dispense with my parents. It is in my interest for them to be alive and paying the bills."
Referring to conversations regarding payment, which started at $10,000 per murder with a $2000 deposit, Nicholas asked Barlow: "What does that look like Alan? You've been caught with your pants down."
Barlow's mother Diana said their relationship had broken down over money. She said he was aware of her will, stating that the house would go to him in the event of his parents' deaths.
The money dispute, bugged conversations and the map - described by Crown lawyer Hayley Sheridan as providing "a location for where the murder would take place" - amounted to incontrovertible evidence of guilt, claimed the prosecution.
"He took real steps to cause ‘John' to murder his parents," Sheridan said in her summing up.
Barlow's defence lawyer Craig Tuck argued that the evidence failed to meet the threshold of reasonable doubt.
The jury, however, recorded a unanimous guilty verdict.
Speaking outside of the court, Nicholas said Barlow's mother Diana was relieved at the guilty verdict.
Barlow was remanded in custody until September 26 for sentencing.