9 Sep 2016

Stop-go trial: Man found guilty of murdering roadworker

6:45 pm on 9 September 2016

A jury has found Quinton Winders guilty of murdering George Taiaroa, who was operating a stop-go sign in Waikato in 2013.

George Taiaroa (left) and Quinton Winders

George Taiaroa, left, and Quinton Winders Photo: Supplied

Mr Taiaroa, a 67-year-old father of four, was fatally shot on 19 March 2013 while at work at a one-lane bridge near Atiamuri, south of Tokoroa.

After deliberating for 17 hours, the jury of seven women and five men this afternoon returned the unanimous guilty verdict.

The Crown's case was that Winders, 45, had a minor run-in with Mr Taiaroa and returned to the roadworks a week later, shooting him in the head before fleeing in his blue Jeep Cherokee.

Winders' defence had claimed the entire case was one of mistaken identity.

His lawyer, Jonathan Temm, had told the court Winders had never met Mr Taiaroa, nor did he have any reason to kill him.

Winders' mother wept in the public gallery as the guilty verdict was delivered, and she was supported by her daughter.

Members of the family yelled out "love you" as he was remanded in custody to reappear for sentencing on 2 November.

Many of Mr Taiaroa's family were dabbing their eyes and appeared relieved.

Several jurors also wiped away tears.

Outside court, Mr Taiaroa's family told reporters he was "more than just a victim of a crime".

Speaking on behalf of the family, Ani Mikaere said the reaction at this time was one of relief.

"These court proceedings have lasted a very long five weeks and they've come at the end of an even longer three-and-a-half years. For George Taiaroa's whānau, the real trial, adjusting to life without their husband, father, grandfather is far from over. It will never be over."

The family had been overwhelmed by the support they've had, she said.

Five weeks, 130 witnesses

The trial in the High Court in Rotorua ran for five weeks, with more than 130 witnesses called.

Several of those said they saw a man who resembled Winders fleeing the Tram Road area in a hurried and dangerous manner, including one woman, Corin Walker, who positively identified Winders from a police photo montage.

Ms Walker told the jury that she "got a good look at the driver" and, when shown his photo, the recognition "hit her like a ton of bricks".

Prosecutor Amanda Gordon said Winders had repeatedly lied to police about his whereabouts.

In the days before Winders was interviewed by police on 4 April, he altered the appearance of his Jeep, Ms Gordon said.

Officers found a tow bar hidden in the bushes across the road from his house, along with a spare wheel and other parts that fitted his vehicle.

Although the murder weapon has never been found, ballistics experts determined that the bullet could have come from Winders' .22 rifle, which he said was missing or had been stolen.

Winders' defence called nine witnesses, some via video link, two of whom described seeing a Māori man behind the wheel of a blue Jeep Cherokee acting suspiciously in the Tram Road area.

It was undeniable that somebody had committed murder - but it wasn't Winders, as he was never there, his defence lawyer had said.

Mr Temm had rejected the Crown's argument that a minor crash at the roadworks site was a catalyst for his client to to make a return trip back to the site to fatally shoot him.

He criticised the extensive surveillance police had carried out of Winders and his family, and the way officers had interviewed him.

He had also said the supposed lies told to police were more likely to be mistaken recollections.

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