14 Nov 2019

Family of murdered man now seeking return of body

4:54 pm on 14 November 2019

A missing puzzle piece in the disappearance of Brett Hall has now fallen into place, with the conviction of his killer. But his family say there's still a big gap - they want to know where his body is.

Brett Hall disappeared in 2011.

Brett Hall disappeared in 2011. Photo: Supplied

Manawatu builder David Owen Lyttle, 54, was today found guilty of the murder at the High Court in Wellington, in a unanimous decision by the jury of six men and six women.

Mr Hall, who was 47 when he went missing in 2011, hired his friend Lyttle to build his dream home on a remote property at Pitangi, between Whanganui and Ohakune.

The prosecution say they fell out, and Lyttle killed Mr Hall after a dispute over money. A body or weapon were never found, despite intense search operations.

A group of Mr Hall's family were in court today, and many cried and embraced after the verdict was read aloud.

"They are very happy with the verdict, but they remain very focused on trying to get Brett's body back - for them that's still a huge focus," said crown prosecutor Michele Wilkinson-Smith.

"They've waited now for about eight years, and Brett's mother in particular would like his body back, so they are hopeful that perhaps with a conviction, once the rest of the legal process works it's way through, maybe there will be some more information towards that."

After Mr Hall disappeared police had their eye on Lyttle, but did not have enough evidence for a trial, so he was targetted by an undercover operation they hoped would either gather more evidence or clear him as a suspect.

Three years after the killing he told officers posing as gangsters about the details of the murder, in the hope of gaining favour with a fictional crime boss, by demonstrating his honesty.

Lyttle told the officers he shot Mr Hall at the Pitangi property near the Whanganui River, then burned items that could link him to the killing.

David Lyttle in the Palmerston North High Court.

Manawatu builder David Owen Lyttle. Photo: RNZ / Anne Marie May

He cut the body up because it was too heavy for him to carry, and buried the parts on two beaches between Palmerston North and Whanganui.

CCTV footage from cameras in Bulls and Turakina captured his car on roads in those areas early on the Sunday after police believe Mr Hall died.

When arrested, Mr Lyttle first told officers they had got the right man for the killing, but later claimed he was innocent.

During the 10-week trial the court was played many hours of recordings from the police undercover operation, saw a range of physical evidence and heard from dozens of witnesses.

Defence laywer Christopher Stevenson argued the dispute between the men was not as bad as the prosecution had argued, and Lyttle's confessions were a fabrication and were coerced, but that didn't make them true.

An earlier trial last year was called off after the judge said information was introduced by a Crown witness at a late stage, that did not allow the defence enough time to consider it.

Lyttle will be sentenced on 19 December.