2 Mar 2020

Jury hears gruesome details of how Whanganui man James Butler died

4:20 pm on 2 March 2020

The jury at the trial of six men accused of murdering Whanganui man James Butler has heard gruesome details of how he died.

18072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Wellington High Court.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The 53-year-old was shot and left for dead a property on Wikitoria Road in April 2018.

Crown prosecutor Michele Wilkinson-Smith told the High Court at Whanganui this morning that Butler was killed after confronting a group of Black Power members who had come to his home to rob him of drugs.

Wilkinson-Smith said they stormed into Butler's home at about 6.30pm on 22 April 2018.

"Two carloads of men arrived. They had blue and white bandanas and balaclavas. They had guns.

"The Crown case is that they were obviously Black Power from the colours they wore and the language they used. They were there for drugs and whatever they could get."

One of the accused has name suppression, but the others are Mark Robert Audain, 36, Daniel Shane Whareaorere, 37, Kemp Rangitahae Rippon, 27, Wayne David Reardon, 30 and Dwayne Anson Tewhenua Fore, 32.

They also face charges of aggravated robbery, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and being members of an organised criminal group.

A seventh man, Manuel Wynyard, faces a charge of perverting the course of justice, a charge Audain has plead guilty to.

Wilkinson-Smith said Butler, who also went by the nickname Uncle, was a drug dealer who mostly sold cannabis but also had connections to the methamphetamine business.

She said he had been to jail previously.

Wilkinson-Smith said when Butler and his brother Brent - a freezing works supervisor who disliked his brother's drug dealing - fought back, he was shot in the back.

"The bullet entered his lung from behind. He then ran back ... Butler ran back towards the house with blood gushing from his mouth."

Wilkinson-Smith said a witness at the scene, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told police he heard two gunshots and Butler ran towards and screamed "oh no" while gargling blood.

"At least one further shot was fired as he ran away. James Butler died in his driveway. The men who had shot and robbed him drove away."

Wilkinson-Smith said a post-mortem of Butler showed he had no chance of survival.

"The bullet had entered the right side of his back approximately at the tip of his right shoulder blade.

"The wound track showed the bullet had broken a rib and it passed through his left lung. It then passed through his aorta and it passed through the right lung.

"Now just as I say that a bullet going through two lungs and the aorta obviously anybody would know that's not survivable and it wasn't."

Butler died in his driveway while his brother was left unconscious after being hit over the head.

The Crown's case rests on the evidence of Brent Butler, who has impaired memory after the attack, and another man who was at the address at the time of the attack.

The witness, who managed to runaway from the scene, raised the alarm and was later able to identify three of the assailants to police.

Although three .22 bullet cases - fired from two different guns - and a rifle bolt were recovered at the scene, two cutdown rifles believed to have been involved in the killing have not been recovered.

Wilkinson-Smith said a combination of CCTV footage, phone data and forensic evidence would link the six men to the murder at Wikitoria Road.

She said the movements of two vehicles, a Honda belonging to Audain, and a Toyota linked to Rippon, tied with telecommunications data painted a compelling picture of their involvement along with the anonymous witness' testimony.

But defence counsel for Audain, Debbie Goodlet, reminded the jury that it was up to the Crown to prove her client was at Wikitoria Road on 22 April 2018.

Goodlet said any evidence indicating his car and phone might have been at the address did not mean he was there.

"You must be sure that Mr Audain was there. There was no direct evidence that Mr Audain was there."

Goodlet reminded the jury that the fact her client had plead guilty to the perverting the course of justice charge - for making alterations to the appearance of his car - it did not imply he was more guilty of the more serious charges.

Susan Hughes, representing the accused with name suppression, said his defence was simple: "He wasn't there".

"In relation to him you will find there is no CCTV footage, there is no visual identification of him, there is no forensic evidence linking him to the scene or the others charged in this matter and there are no admissions."

Hughes said the Crown's case relied on her client's phone being at the scene, but the fact it was there did not mean he was using it.

"So the fact that the phone is there proves nothing unless the Crown prove that my client was there with his phone."

Defence counsel for Wayne Reardon, Lucy Scott, warned the jurors to put aside their prejudices about the Black Power.

"I make no apology for that because you have a number of men before you with tattoos on their faces affiliated with the Black Power and that invokes in some people a certain unease.

"That's human nature but you have to put that to one side. Own it for what it is and and let it go because you are here to sit in judgement on fellow members of your community and that is what these men are.

"That is what Mr Reardon is. He's an innocent member of your community. He's presumed that way and remains that way for the coming weeks."

The trial is set down for eight weeks.