25 Jul 2019

Jury told to put aside gang prejudice in manslaughter trial

5:36 pm on 25 July 2019

The jury in the trial of three people accused of playing a part in the death of a Ngāruawāhia man in July 2018 have been told to put aside any prejudice they may have towards gang members and drug dealers.

 Mitchell Curtis Rehua Paterson.

Mitchell Paterson. Photo: Facebook/Mitchell Paterson

The three defence lawyers gave their closing statements to the jury on Thursday.

Twenty-six-year-old Mitchell Paterson died after being held in a choke-hold in the back of a car in Hamilton. His body was later thrown off a bridge into the McLaren Falls in Bay of Plenty.

Former gang leader Leon Wilson, 49, and 34-year-old Christopher Smith are charged with kidnapping, manslaughter and conspiring to defeat the course of justice.

Chloe Kerridge faces kidnapping and conspiring to defeat the course of justice charges.

Following Mr Paterson's death eight people were arrested and charged with various offences.

Five pleaded guilty and have been convicted, but three opted to go to trial.

The Crown said Mr Wilson ordered his associates to find Mr Paterson and bring him for a chat after reports he had been bad-mouthing the gang leader.

Mr Paterson, who was a methamphetamine user and dealer was forced into a car and driven to Mr Wilson's home.

During the journey he lost consciousness and was found unresponsive on arrival.

Prosecutor Jacinda Foster said the Crown's case relies heavily on the evidence of an insider, Dylan Boyle.

"In making your assessments on how Mr Paterson died, the circumstances in which he was kidnapped, the role that each of these three individuals played in those events is graphically, I say, illustrated in the evidence given by Mr Boyle."

The body of Mitchell Curtis Rehua Paterson was found at McLaren Falls, west of Tauranga.

The body of Mitchell Curtis Rehua Paterson was found at McLaren Falls, west of Tauranga. Photo: SunLive/Cameron Avery

Mr Wilson's lawyer Roger Laybourn supported the Crown's assertion that Mr Boyle was a credible witness.

He said Mr Boyle backs up his clients claim that he only wanted to talk to Mr Paterson and not do him any harm.

"Mr Boyle who overheard the essential part of the conversation and the plan did not involve violence, detention or kidnapping. Mr Boyle ruled those out."

Mr Laybourn said the manslaughter charge fails at the very first hurdle.

He asked the jury to think about whether the assault on Mr Paterson was the result of a plan.

"Now, what a scary place this world would be if you wanted to talk to somebody but you were assumed to know, everyone of us, that a probable consequence of wanting to speak to somebody would be that they would be assaulted."

Mr Smith's lawyer Michael McIvor said that by the time his client got into the backseat of the car the kidnapping and assault on Mr Paterson had already happened.

Mr McIvor also supports the evidence of Mr Boyle.

"Now his credible evidence is that Mr Paterson was unconscious before Smith got into the car.

"Mr Paterson is already unconscious, at the least, and I say at the least because Dr Tse's evidence (pathologist) that death can take place with neck compressions within seconds to minutes."

Mr McIvor said if there was a reasonable possibility that Mr Paterson was already dead at that stage how can Mr Smith be guilty of kidnapping a dead man.

Mr McIvor said there was insufficient evidence to find Mr Smith guilty.

"Sitting in the back of the car doing nothing physically does not make him guilty of kidnapping or manslaughter and I suggest there is no evidence to support the contention that he was part of any general conspiracy to prevent the course of justice."

Mr Laybourn told the jury the biggest obstacle they faced was not the evidence but prejudice.

"And if I am blunt to you, my client - because of the way he appears, the occupation or the position he had, and the way he speaks, and the language he uses, and the life that he leads, is going to attract a negative reaction."

Ms Kerridge's lawyer Rob Weir said the Crown evidence does not establish her involvement in the kidnapping of Mr Paterson beyond reasonable doubt and that she had no part in disposing of his body.

Justice Davison will sum up on Friday before the jury of seven women and five men retire to determine the fate of the three defendants.