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However, debris found at the site was enough for police to investigate the scene further.
The trial for two people accused of being involved in the murder of Mr Watene began before Justice Gerald Nation in the High Court at Invercargill on June 13.
Sandy Maree Graham (32) is charged with his murder at Otautau on April 16, 2020.
George Ivor Hyde (24) is charged with accessory after the fact to murder at Otautau between April 16 and 27, 2020.
Mr Watene’s body was found buried in a shallow grave in the Longwood Forest near Otautau on May 18, 2020.
At the start of the trial, defence lawyer for Graham, Sarah Saunderson-Warner, said Mr Watene had been shot at Graham’s home but it was not done on purpose nor with murderous intent.
Yesterday, Detective Dougall Henderson said after first coming across the site on May 1, volunteer searchers alerted police to the same area on May 16, 2020, saying the ground at the site was soft.
However, a police dog with cadaver training did not detect a body, he said.
Knowing that Hyde had bricks, mortar and roof flashings at his property, police decided to go back to the site a third time to investigate further on May 18, 2020.
Police cleared the debris from the top of the site which was about 2m long and 1.62m wide, placing it on a clean tarpaulin, and removed some top soil.
Continuing his evidence today, Det Henderson said at 2.14pm on May 18, less than 30cm under the surface, Detective Sergeant Dave Kennelly unearthed what appeared to be a bare human foot.
A shovel was then swapped for a trowel to scrape away more earth.
“We gently removed sufficient soil and clay from around the foot to ensure that what we located was definitely a foot and not an animal part,” Det Henderson said.
At that time a clear plastic bin was put over the foot and steps were taken to preserve the scene, photographs were taken, he said.
Police were stationed 24 hours at the site to ensure the scene remained uncontaminated.
A full forensic examination of the gravesite was then carried out two days later on May 20 and the body was exhumed.
Detective Matthew Wyatt, officer in charge of the body, said Mr Watene’s body was put on a stretcher and placed on the back of a police 4x4.
He and another police officer walked alongside the 4x4 securing the stretcher, until they reached the intersection where Mr Watene’s body could be transferred to another vehicle.
Police iwi staff then performed a Maori blessing, before the body was taken to a funeral home where it was kept secure before being transferred to the Christchurch mortuary.
The trial continues this afternoon.
- Karen Pasco, PIJF court reporter