Cricket bat killing: Jury finds Collins guilty of murder

John Kenneth Collins. Photo: ODT
John Kenneth Collins. Photo: ODT
A man who beat his friend to death with a cricket bat has been found guilty of murder and may spend the rest of his life in prison.

John Kenneth Collins (39) has spent more than a week on trial before the High Court at Dunedin and the jury this afternoon took only an hour to return its unanimous verdict.

The defendant gave a glimmer of a 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.

The offence represented Collins' second strike under the three-strikes regime which meant he would be sentenced to life imprisonment unless it would be “manifestly unjust”.

Defence counsel Len Andersen QC told the court he would argue at sentencing that that was the case.

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 clearly rejected.

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

“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.

Brent Bacon's body was found in rural Seacliff on February 18, 2019. Photo: Supplied
Brent Bacon's body was found in rural Seacliff on February 18, 2019. Photo: Supplied

He pointed to the evidence of pathologist Dr Charles Glenn who found a large portion of the victim's 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.

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.

Sentencing will take place in May.

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