Ryan John Court
A Dunedin demolition worker accused of murdering a man in
an Octagon bar in April has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge
The guilty plea from Stephen Anthony Fernyhough came as more
details of the incident emerged in a summary of facts and
The 25-year-old was accused of murdering Ryan John Court at
Dunedin on April 27 this year.
In May, he pleaded not guilty to that charge.
Mr Court (35) died after being found unconscious in the
toilet area of an inner city bar early that day.
The postmortem examination found ''sudden death in a
35-year-old man following a neck hold''.
Fernyhough appeared at a short hearing in the High Court at
Dunedin yesterday, where he appeared calm and attentive to
Justice Christian Whata granted a request to amend the charge
to manslaughter, and the charge was read to the defendant.
Fernyhough responded: ''Guilty.''
Justice Whata entered the conviction, said prison for the
defendant was inevitable, and gave him a three strikes
Fernyhough was remanded in custody and sentencing was set for
Defence counsel John Westgate told the court Fernyhough had
raised the idea of restorative justice with Mr Court's
family, and was ''willing to engage in that process''.
Justice Whata said that was up to the family.
Crown counsel Robin Bates said after the hearing the decision
to charge Fernyhough with manslaughter had been made by the
Crown when it reviewed the evidence after receiving the
The summary of facts said Mr Court had been socialising at
Craft Bar in central Dunedin with family and friends.
About 1.30am on the Sunday, the defendant went to the men's
toilet of the bar.
Stephen Anthony Fernyhough
Shortly after, Mr Court entered the toilet and engaged in
conversation with Fernyhough.
''Initially, the conversation was of a light-hearted
nature,'' the summary read.
''For an unknown reason the conversation between the pair
became more aggressive, which resulted in the defendant and
the victim being engaged in a physical altercation.''
During the altercation, the defendant managed to get behind
the victim and applied a ''choker-style hold'' for between 20
and 40 seconds, resulting in the victim very quickly becoming
Mr Court fell to the ground when released, and Fernyhough
left the toilet, uttering a comment similar to ''Don't mess
with the wee man''.
Mr Court received first aid, but was pronounced dead shortly
after by ambulance staff.
Fernyhough left with associates, and became involved in a
second altercation with a man at the Brimstone bar in Princes
St, resulting in a window being broken.
There was no plea made on a second charge of intentionally
damaging a window.
The defendant was arrested, interviewed about 8am, and
admitted placing Mr Court in a headlock.
''He stated that he did so to protect himself and that he did
not intend to kill the victim.''
The postmortem report noted findings in a death following a
neck hold ''may be minimal'', and they were in this case.
Compression of the carotid arteries on the side of the neck
could impair blood flow to the brain, with death resulting
from carotid sinus stimulation causing a neural reflex that
slows or stops the heart.
The autopsy also said Mr Court fell to the floor face first
''without attempting to protect himself from the fall''. No
other injuries were identified that contributed to the cause
Mr Court's family chose not to comment on the guilty plea.