Jury mulls verdict in Invercargill murder trial

A jury who have been ‘‘the passengers on a journey into the lives of five young people’’ were put in the ‘‘driver’s seat’’ by a judge in Invercargill yesterday.

In the High Court at Invercargill, Justice Rachel Dunningham gave a summary of the trial of five people charged with the murder of 19-year-old Jack McAllister.  

Christopher Brown (20), Laura Scheepers (19), Natasha Ruffell (27), David Wilson (20) and a 24-year-old woman with interim name suppression have been standing trial for the past five weeks, all facing a single charge of murdering Mr McAllister.

Mr McAllister died from injuries suffered during an attack at Stadium Southland on June 7 last year.

Two others, including Brayden Whiting-Roff, who the Crown alleged was the principal offender, have already pleaded guilty to murder.

As summarised by Justice Dunningham, the Crown says each of the defendants was committed to a ‘‘shared goal’’ where Mr McAllister would be seriously assaulted.

Evidence used included what had been said by witnesses at the trial who had been associated with the defendants or at various meetings prior to the fatal assault, CCTV footage, bloodstains, knives, and text messages and phone calls made after the fact.

Justice Dunningham summarised both the Crown and defence cases for each defendant.

The Crown alleged the 24-year-old woman with name suppression knew ‘‘exactly what was planned’’ on the night Mr McAllister was killed.

The Crown’s argument included the woman seeing both Brown and Whiting-Roff wielding knives, that she herself held a knife during a meeting at an Ettrick St property, and the woman’s presence at Stadium Southland, which showed she was there to provide support and assistance.

The defence said the woman was not involved in the planning and went to Stadium Southland to ‘‘defuse’’ the situation.

The woman’s statement to police was that she was only trying to ‘‘break it up’’.

The woman could be distinguished from others in that she was not a party to text or Facebook conversations, the defence argued.

Murder was not in the scope of what she had agreed to, which was something less than serious assault, the defence argued.

Scheepers, who the Crown alleged ‘‘lured’’ Mr McAllister to the stadium, knew ‘‘full well’’ what was being contemplated by Brown and Whiting-Roff, the Crown argued.

Even though Scheepers was not at the Ettrick St address, the Crown said she ‘‘fed animosity’’ Brown and others held towards Mr McAllister.

The Crown said text messages sent by the defendant showed her understanding of the level of violence which was to occur.

However, the defence asked the jury have regard to the background of a sexual assault Mr McAllister had been accused of.

Scheepers wanted an apology from Mr McAllister, and at worst, wanted him ‘‘punched and hurt emotionally to teach him a lesson’’, the defence said.

After a meeting at Subway, Scheepers had envisaged an assault, with an exchange of punches being contemplated.

Text messages sent by Scheepers only demonstrated the restrictions she was placing on what she would support, the defence argued.

Brown had a ‘‘considerable history’’ of animosity towards his cousin, Mr McAllister, the Crown alleged.

Referring to witness statements, the Crown said Brown had referred to Mr McAllister in a ‘‘highly derogative’’ way, and wanted to ‘‘finish him off’’.

Taking his own knife to the stadium showed Brown had encouraged or assisted Whiting-Roff, the Crown alleged.

The defence accepted Brown intended to punch Mr McAllister, but said the jury could not infer he knew of Whiting-Roff’s intention to kill.

While Brown heard these things, he never took Whiting-Roff seriously until he saw him stab Mr McAllister, the defence argued.

The Crown alleged Wilson driving the group to the stadium where the attack took place meant he was on hand if needed.

Even though Wilson was not at the Ettrick St address for as long as the others, he was still party to the tracking down of Mr McAllister.

Wilson’s presence at the property for the final moments of the meeting meant he knew knives would be involved in the assault.

However, the defence argued the evidence of what happened in the final moments at Ettrick St was not enough for Wilson to know what was to occur.

Wilson, who drove Ruffell’s car because she ‘‘trusted him’’, did not arrive at the assault until it was ‘‘well under way’’.

The Crown alleged Ruffell knew ‘‘full well’’ what was going to happen later that night. Her level of prior knowledge about the plan included a party she attended a week earlier at which some of the defendants chanted ‘‘kill, kill, kill’’ in relation to Mr McAllister.

The Crown alleged Ruffell saw the way Brown and Whiting-Roff were acting, saw the knives and knew what they were planning.

Ruffell’s circumstances were different from the other defendants, as she was a mother with children, and her attention was split at the Ettrick St meeting. 

The defence said the jury could not assume that because she allowed her car to be used, she was signalling support for the plan the others might have had.

Once the other defendants left Ettrick St, Ruffell was no longer with them and therefore did not assist them in their plans at Stadium Southland.

Justice Dunningham told the jury she would show them how to navigate their options, but the final decision was entirely theirs.

Before the jury members retired at 1pm to consider their verdicts, Justice Dunningham suggested they take as much time as they needed to decide.

‘‘I expect your verdicts are likely to take days, rather than hours.

‘‘I’m of the view it would be unrealistic that you reach a verdict today,’’ she said yesterday.

The jury will continue their deliberations today.

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