8 Oct 2018

'Chopped the legs off with a Stanley knife'

9:17 pm on 8 October 2018

A Feilding man fatally shot his friend after a dispute over money but concocted a plan to get away with murder, the Crown prosecutor has told the High Court in Palmerston North.

David Lyttle in the Palmerston North High Court.

David Lyttle in the Palmerston North High Court. Photo: RNZ / Anne Marie May

David Lyttle, 53, is on trial, accused of murdering Brett Hall in May 2011.

Mr Hall was last seen alive in May 2011 but it was another three years before the police arrested his friend David Lyttle and charged him with murder.

Crown prosecutor Michele Wilkinson-Smith told the court Mr Lyttle and Mr Hall had been good friends; Mr Hall had been best man at Mr Lyttle's wedding.

In 2011 Mr Hall had asked his friend to build him a house on a remote property at Pitangi, by the Whanganui River.

Ms Wilkinson-Smith said Mr Lyttle was in financial difficulty, could not meet his mortgage payments and used money which Mr Hall had given him for building materials for his own purposes.

Mr Hall was not the only person Mr Lyttle was in debt to. He was also given $36,000 from a Mr and Mrs Brown for whom he was also building a house. Mr Lyttle spent that money on day-to-day living expenses.

Ms Wilkinson-Smith said Mr Hall began accusing his friend of ripping him off and demanded he repay the money.

"Late in May 2011 there was an argument at the remote site where the house [was] being built and David Lyttle shot Brett Hall.

"He was unable to carry the body and was desperate to cover up what he'd done so he cut up the body and carried it away in his car in black plastic rubbish bags."

Michele Wilkinson-Smith said Mr Lyttle kept Mr Hall's body in his car for two days in black rubbish bags hidden under firewood.

He then disposed of it on a beach between Palmerston North and Whanganui and CCTV footage from cameras in Bulls and Turakina showed him driving around that area early on the Sunday morning two days after Mr Hall died.

The Crown said Mr Lyttle tried to make it look as if Mr Hall had gone hunting and become lost in bush.

If that scenario did not work, he would suggest the disappearance was linked to Mr Hall's previous drug dealing and gang connections.

What he had not counted on was Mr Hall's son, Damian, visiting his father's remote campsite the day after he was killed.

Ms Wilkinson-Smith said when Damian arrived at the campsite it was deserted and there was no sign of his father.

"He couldn't see the quad-bike initially, it was not in its usual place, but he then found it up a track tucked in the bush line.

"He was concerned initially but then assumed his father had gone out possum trapping. He also noticed a fire piled high with ash but the ash was cold so it hadn't been lit recently."

The Crowna alleges Mr Lyttle burned a number of items connected with Mr Hall's murder.

Three years after Mr Hall disappeared police had no body and no forensic evidence linking Mr Lyttle with the disappearance.

They began an undercover operation aimed at showing he was responsible or clearing him as a suspect.

As part of that, Michele Wilkinson-Smith said, undercover officers approached Mr Lyttle, telling him they were part of a criminal group which needed some jobs carried out and asking him to take part.

An officer, "Nick" befriended Mr Lyttle.

"His role was to present himself as a member of the group and offer David Lyttle membership... subject to him being honest and upfront about any problems he'd had with the police in the past."

She said "Scott," the man at the top of the "organisation," interviewed him and in that encounter he was asked why the police thought he was a suspect.

"With little prompting he said he shot Bret Hall in the head... and put a plastic bag over his head to suffocate him.

"He said they got into a fight and he decided to go for a little walk and shoot him.

"The body was too heavy for him to carry, so he lay it on a tarpaulin and chopped the legs off with a Stanley knife and... bagged [the body parts] and put them in the back of his car."

Ms Wilkinson-Smith said "Scott" asked Mr Lyttle where the body was and he said he buried him in two different places. It was pitch black and he would not be able to find it again.

Mr Lyttle was arrested a short time later and when someone asked him if the police had got the right man he said, "Yeah, I was going to turn myself in anyway. Just wanted to get it off my chest. It's been 3 years."

The Crown will call 60 witnesses and the trial, before Justice Simon France and a jury of ten women and two men, is expected to run for about ten weeks.