NZ's first majority guilty verdict

In what is believed to be New Zealand's first majority verdict, a jury has found Dieter Rudolf Bedenknecht guilty of being an on-line auction cheat.

The law was only changed last week to allow juries to return verdicts where one member was dissenting.

One juror had been discharged because of illness during the week-long trial, so the verdicts that came back tonight were 10 to 1.

For the first time, a Christchurch District Court registrar went through the four-stage process of asking the jury foreperson if the jury was agreed, if they were likely to reach agreement, if they had only one member in disagreement, and what the verdicts were. This had to be done on each charge.

Bedenknecht, a German immigrant in his 60s, was found guilty of two charges of dishonestly using documents in on-line auctions of stamp collections.

Two witnesses gave evidence that the stamp collections they bid on - both on ebay - were not the same collections that arrived from Bedenknecht.

The Crown alleged stamps had been omitted or replaced after the auctions had closed. The collections were different to what had been shown in the on-line images of the pages of the stamp albums.

Rare and valuable stamps from the 1906 Christchurch Exhibition had been on offer.

But the buyers - one in Australia, and the other a former reporter from the scam-busting television series Fair Go, Peter Cronshaw - said it was clear that many of the stamps in the collections had been swapped or omitted.

Bedenknecht himself said either the buyers had been confused by seeing online material relating to an earlier, unsuccessful auction, or he had made a mistake.

But the Crown also called evidence from two other on-line buyers dissatisfied with the goods that arrived, to show that Bedenknecht had a propensity to make false statements on internet sites when selling stamp collections.

The court heard that he had been called "a liar and a thief" in feedback on one auction site.

The jury retired to consider its verdicts at 10.45am. Late afternoon, Judge Gary MacAskill received a note from the jury saying they were deadlocked but were able to offer majority verdicts.

He then spoke to them in court and gave them permission to return majority verdicts if they were sure they were unlikely to reach agreement.

They returned to the jury room but the verdicts were delivered in court only a few minutes later.

Defence counsel Tony Greig suggested the judge immediately sentence Bedenknecht, who has no previous convictions. He had money available to pay a fine.

Judge MacAskill said he wanted some time to think about the sentence and remanded Bedenknecht on bail to Thursday. He said he did not need a pre-sentence report, and reports on the victims were not necessary because he had heard their evidence.

Parliament last year passed law changes to how criminal trials worked.

Justice Minister Simon Power said allowing 11-1 or 10-1 verdicts in criminal trials would reduce the number of retrials.

In two years time the Solicitor-General would review the law to ensure it was working.

Other changes in the bill included:

* written evidence to be used in depositions hearings to avoid witnesses having to give evidence twice;

* changes the law on double jeopardy to allow retrials in some cases; and

* allowing methamphetamine trials to be heard in district courts instead of only in high courts.