An Auckland man accused of murdering his friend and maintaining an elaborate ruse that he was still alive has been found guilty of manslaughter.
James Cooper, 25, was found not guilty in the High Court in Auckland today of the murder of his friend, Javed Mills, but guilty of his manslaughter.
The five-week trial before Justice Christopher Allan was told Mills' headless skeleton was found in a Mt Wellington garage in September 2011. Mills had been killed in July 2009.
The Crown said it was a deliberate murder, but Cooper maintained Mills dropped dead during a fight.
The fatal altercation took place in an "oversized doll house" called "the den" - a place where the pair would smoke pot and listen to heavy metal music.
Cooper wrapped Mills' body in a blanket and "stuffed him under the den" where he left him for two days.
He then dug a grave half a metre deep and buried Mills, where he remained for 12 months.
Cooper later started to "freak out" about the body being buried right outside the den and exhumed the remains before moving them to an abandoned house.
He smashed the skull and hid the other bones of the skeleton.
In an effort to conceal the death, Cooper set up a fake Bebo account and pretended to be Mills.
He also withdrew his friend's weekly Work and Income benefit and used his eftpos card regularly.
Summing up the defence case, lawyer Mina Wharepouri said Cooper's "after-the-fact conduct" did not help in the murder trial as it did not say anything about any murderous intent at the time of Mills' death.
Forensic pathologists were unable to say how Mills died, Wharepouri said.
Cooper admitted in a three-hour police interview on June 5, 2012, to covering up the death for three years. He blurted out in a police car "it was an accident".
Justice Allan remanded him in custody until sentencing on October 18.
Cooper will also be sentenced for perverting the course of justice in relation to his efforts to make Mills appear to be still alive. He pleaded guilty to that charge before trial.
- © Fairfax NZ News