Man tells of finding friend's bashed body

Last updated 14:59 16/11/2009

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An Opotiki man told a jury in the High Court at Rotorua today of finding his neighbour's "bashed up" body.

Douglas Gibson, who was John Rowe's immediate next door neighbour, said he had gone to chivvy him along because he saw no sign of movement there on the morning he had been due to take Mr Rowe to Whakatane Hospital.

The jury is hearing evidence in the trial of Courtney Churchward, 18, and a 15-year-old girl whose name is suppressed. The pair are charged with murdering Mr Rowe, 78, at Opotiki on November 25 last year. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Mr Gibson said in the early hours of November 25 he heard a loud boom and because the weather was "boisterous" checked to see if there was any damage to his property, or if Mr Rowe's windows had blown open.

He saw nothing untoward but when he went to Mr Rowe's home some hours later the garage door was open, a ranchslider was ajar and the drapes covering it slightly parted.

Inside the house he spotted an overturned chair and thought Mr Rowe may have had a fall. When he saw no sign of him he went into Mr Rowe's bedroom where he was lying across his bed in what Mr Gibson described as a "bashed up state".

Mr Gibson said he beat a hasty retreat and called emergency services from his home. While he waited for their arrival he took shelter in Mr Rowe's garage and realised Mr Rowe's car radio was on.

He identified two rods produced by the Crown as belonging to Mr Rowe. He used one to manoeuvre his drapes open and closed and the other was a piece of driftwood that was usually kept on the back of Mr Rowe's settee.

The Crown has alleged Mr Rowe was beaten with sticks or rods.

The boyfriend of the 15-year-old accused told the court he had been living at her Opotiki home when Mr Rowe died.

He said in the early hours of November 25 last year he saw the accused distraught, shaking and "bawling".

"She said ‘me and Courtney may have done something bad, we may have killed someone'."

Initially he didn't believe her but she said they had gone to Mr Rowe's house and given someone a hiding.

"I said ‘how can you do such a thing ?'. I got no answer."

The accused showed him a blue wallet with about $400 and bank cards in it and a radio-CD player.

Part of the money had been used to buy drugs, food, petrol and clothing for the 15-year-old.

The witness said later that day Churchward had come to the home he shared with the 15-year-old and her family.

They'd gone into town to buy pies and, because Churchward wanted marijuana, visited two tinny houses.

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They went to Churchward's home where she said the heat was on the 15-year-old to blame her (Churchward) for what had happened.

The witness said at one stage he had hidden $100 from the wallet under an ornament because police had searched the house once and he believed they would return.

He admitted he twice lied to police when questioned about Mr Rowe's death.

His girlfriend had been continually worried, saying she didn't want to go to jail.

Before he left Opotiki to spend Christmas with his family in Auckland, he helped her dump a pair of fluffy boots in a council rubbish bin.

He was with her when she threw women's shoes into woodland opposite the Opotiki cemetery.

He identified voices on a police-intercepted tape as those of his girlfriend and himself and acknowledged that in May he had been convicted of perverting the course of justice relating to getting rid the footwear.

Cross-examined by the 15-year-old's counsel, the witness said she had not told him she had hit Mr Rowe.

"I know she said Courtney had hit him repetitively (sic)". He agreed the word ‘bashed' not ‘hit' had been used.

The trial continues before Justice Geoffrey Venning and a jury of six men and six women.


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