Sad end to tale of two mates

16:00, Oct 21 2009

As a packed courtroom erupted at the news that Alan Gundry would walk free after shooting dead one of his best mates in self-defence, the young Auckland father simply sank in the dock and cradled his head in his hands.

Mr Gundry, 30, always said he was forced to shoot Gene Atkins, 28, to protect his family when his friend went berserk after a dinner party went badly wrong.

He fired two rounds from his pig-hunting rifle into Mr Atkins on January 12. In the house were his partner, friends and two young daughters.

After deliberating for eight hours, a jury unanimously found Mr Gundry not guilty of murder and, by a majority of 11-1, not guilty of manslaughter. His lawyer, Graeme Newell, said there would be no celebration at the rare verdict – just relief.

"I just told him to go home and be with his kids and see his family."

He said police were right to bring the charges; the case had to be decided by a jury.

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The Crown had argued Mr Gundry's decision to shoot was excessive. Crown prosecutor Kevin Glubb told the jury: "He wouldn't even have seen the gun, down by [Mr Gundry's] side, in the foyer ... No opportunity to assess the situation, to back down at all. It's just 'bang bang', and lights out."

More than 70 supporters from both sides of the trial, which has ripped apart two families, packed the courtroom to hear the verdict yesterday, forcing it to be transferred to the largest room in the High Court at Auckland.

As the verdict was read, Mr Gundry buried his face in his hands, while screams and wails echoed around him.

Mr Atkins' family reacted furiously, and knocked down a Dominion Post photographer outside the court.

Mr Gundry's father, also Alan, tearfully expressed relief that the ordeal was over. "We just feel so sorry for [the Atkins family]. It has been very hard for them. It's not a nice situation, two boys who loved each other in a situation that went very bad."

Gundry family friend Janine Wii said the case had tormented both families. Before the verdict, Mr Gundry's six-year-old daughter had written a letter to her father, fearing the worst. It was addressed: "To Daddy on your saddest day, we love you."

Mr Gundry and Mr Atkins were friends for years and had spent January 12 eating and drinking at Mr Gundry's home.

But during the evening Mr Atkins became upset with his girlfriend. They went home and he threw her belongings out of his house. She then fled to Mr Gundry's house, and Mr Atkins followed.

Mr Atkins had a violent history, including several assaults on his girlfriend and a road-rage incident, the court was told. When he died, he was awaiting trial charged with slashing a man's face at an Auckland nightclub.

On the night of the killing, he rampaged through Mr Gundry's home, attacking five others, leaving another party-goer semi-conscious in a pool of blood and assaulting Mr Gundry's partner, Nicole MacDonald.

Mr Gundry took "instant and decisive" action to protect himself and his family, Mr Newell argued.

Commenting on the case, lawyer Greg King said the argument of self-defence was available in "a very rare minority of cases" and the jury would not have come to its decision lightly.

"Every case is very, very fact-specific and obviously the jury would be acutely aware that a life has been lost.

"For someone to walk out of court without a blemish on their record for fatally injuring someone is a big step and obviously it's not a step that juries take lightly."

The Dominion Post