Guilty verdict in cricket bat bludgeoning

A jury took a mere hour to unanimously find a man guilty of beating his friend to death with a cricket bat.

John Kenneth Collins (39) spent more than a week on trial before the High Court at Dunedin before yesterday’s brief wait for the jury’s verdict.

Brent Bacon.
Brent Bacon.
He gave a slight smile as the verdict was read while the family of the victim, 45-year-old Brent Andrew Bacon, in the public gallery breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Counsel Len Andersen QC indicated he would argue at sentencing that life imprisonment without parole — mandatory on a second strike — for his client was excessive.

Collins and his wife, 32-year-old Aleisha Dawson, moved to a state-housing unit in Lock St, St Clair, in November 2018 and soon reconnected with the victim having spent time with him while they lived in Christchurch.

The court heard Mr Bacon would regularly visit the couple but on February 4, 2019 things changed.

Collins, who opted to give evidence, claimed the victim had become paranoid about someone following him over a drug debt.

The pair supposedly exchanged words before Mr Bacon confronted him holding a pair of scissors.

It was a story Collins cooked up at trial to justify his violent outburst as self-defence and one the jury swiftly rejected.

While the defendant said he hit the victim at most four times, Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said it was likely many more.

John Collins.
John Collins.
‘‘Mr Collins kept hitting Mr Bacon until the bat broke. He didn't exercise any restraint at all. He hit him as hard as he could; he didn't stop when he had the upper hand,’’ he said.

He pointed to the evidence of pathologist Dr Charles Glenn who found a large portion of skull missing during an autopsy.

The witness said it would have required ‘‘tremendous force’’ to cause the damage, similar to that seen in plane crashes and gunshot deaths, possibly from dozens of blows.

After killing Mr Bacon, Collins and Dawson bundled his body into a sleeping bag, loaded it into the dead man's Toyota people mover and quickly fled north.

They dumped the body under a low-hanging tree beside a gravel road, 35km away, where it was found two weeks later by a cyclist.

Aleisha Dawson
Aleisha Dawson

At Lock St, there was evidence of a hastily abandoned attempt at cleaning the blood spatter from the walls and the murder weapon was found in two pieces inside a rubbish bag in the kitchen.

Collins admitted he had meant to take it with him when leaving the address.

While Mr Smith accepted the defendant would have been panicking after the bludgeoning, he described it as a conscious effort to hide the most incriminating evidence.

‘‘Mr Collins knew full well, anyone who saw Mr Bacon's injuries would know they couldn't be explained by self-defence. They couldn't be explained by anything other than murder,’’ he said.

The defendant was arrested by police in Rotorua in the weeks after the murder and his interview with police was played for the jury.

When it came to the trial, he gave a different version of events, now claiming the victim had scissors and made an explicit threat to kill.

Yet even from the witness box he conceded hitting Mr Bacon as hard as he could.

Under cross-examination, Collins also admitted he ‘‘flipped out’’ or ‘‘lost the plot’’.

Why it happened, Mr Smith said, might remain a mystery but what happened in that small flat was made clear by the analysis by forensic scientists.

Mr Bacon was hit in the head while he was sitting on a couch and ended up on the floor.

As he lay on his side, Collins stood over him ‘‘raining blows down on his head like he's chopping wood’’, Mr Smith said.

The fractures to Mr Bacon's hands showed he was the one desperately trying to defend himself, not Collins.

Dawson pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder and was jailed for two years three months in November 2019.

She will appear before the Parole Board again next month.

rob.kidd@odt.co.nz

 

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