25 Sep 2019

Murder trial: Crown tries to prove goats screaming, not human

8:09 am on 25 September 2019

Was it a cry for help, or was it a goat? That was the question being asked in a murder trial at the High Court in Wellington yesterday.

Brett Hall disappeared in 2011.

Brett Hall disappeared in 2011. Photo: Supplied

The Crown is arguing that screams for help heard by a neighbour three days after they say Brett Hall was killed, wasn't a man, but a goat.

The Crown said David Lyttle killed his friend, Brett Hall, on Friday 27 May 2011 in a dispute over money.

Mr Hall was initially thought to be missing from his rural Whanganui property, sparking a large search in dense bush east of the Whanganui River where he was said to have gone hunting.

Three years later, Mr Lyttle admitted to killing Mr Hall to undercover police officers, but the defence said his admission was false and coerced.

Mr Hall's body has never been found.

Crown prosecutor Michele Wilkinson-Smith said Mr Hall was killed on the Friday and buried early on Sunday morning on a beach between Whanganui and Bulls.

But the day after Mr Hall is said to have been buried, a neighbour to his Pitangi property, Tracey Moorhouse, said she heard screams for help from across the valley.

"I heard something which I thought, or I think, was a man's voice yelling for 'help', and 'hey'," Ms Moorhouse said.

But after being probed by Mrs Wilkinson-Smith, she admitted "it could have been a goat".

Ms Moorhouse told the jury that goats and humans can sound very similar.

In the bush around the Pitangi property in question, goats are common and were often hunted by Mr Hall's son, Damian.

David Lyttle in the Palmerston North High Court.

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

Ms Moorhouse told defence lawyer Christopher Stevenson that she was fairly sure of what she heard.

"That's what it sounded like, yes. I heard 'help' twice, and what I thought was 'hey' twice."

Mrs Wilkinson-Smith called two police search and rescue experts to the stand to share their knowledge of goat calls.

Sergeant Andrew Brooke said it was not uncommon for people to think they heard a cry for help, but it was actually a goat.

"In my time on the squad there's been two instances when searches have been initiated by people in the field, thinking that they've heard someone calling for help," he said.

"It's turned out to be a goat or goats."

It was a similar story for Senior Sergeant Thomas McIntyre.

He also has two experiences in which goats caused a search and rescue situation, and he himself was fooled.

"As I was walking up a valley, I could hear what I believed to be the cries of a person calling out for help," he said.

"I raced up the valley to try and find the missing party and came across some goats.

"The goats were bleating, and it sounded just like the cries for help I'd heard and it was quite clear ... that the cries for help I'd heard were goats."

The jury were chuckling at times as they heard the goat evidence, but the Crown sought to stress the point that the animals could sound like a distressed human.

Mr McIntyre said anyone could browse YouTube and see several videos of goats screaming.

Mrs Wilkinson-Smith cut his comments short, seeking to ensure the jury didn't look up YouTube videos of goats screaming.

The murder trial is in its second week and is expected to run for up to 10 weeks.