17 Nov 2023

Tāngarākau campground murder trial: Jury finds teen guilty of killing Adrian Humphreys

6:09 pm on 17 November 2023

First published on NZ Herald

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Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

A teenager who snuck into a man's camper to steal the keys to his car and then stabbed him five times has been found guilty of murder.

Justice Williamson-Atkinson, 17, has been in the High Court at New Plymouth defending charges of murder and burglary in a trial that began on 30 October.

The teen was charged following the death of Adrian Humphreys, whose body was found at Bushlands Campground in Tāngarākau, eastern Taranaki, on 7 May 2022.

After two days of deliberation, the jury indicated at 4pm today it had reached a verdict and Williamson-Atkinson was brought into the courtroom, dressed in the same well-fitted black suit and polished dress shoes he has worn for the duration of the trial, to hear the outcome - guilty of both murder and burglary.

As the unanimous verdicts were delivered by the jury foreperson, the teen stood quietly in the dock, and a couple of the jurors wept.

Justice Francis Cooke, who declined an application by NZME to photograph the teen, thanked the jurors for their service and dismissed them.

They began deliberating at 10.30am Thursday, following Justice Cooke's summation of the case, and retired for the night at 5pm before returning to the jury room this morning to continue.

After a fortnight of evidence, Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke and defence lawyer Nicola Graham made their closing addresses to the jury on Wednesday.

It was the Crown's case that Williamson-Atkinson, who was staying at the remote camp with Start Taranaki, a programme for troubled youths, had taken a knife from the communal kitchen and during the night he snuck out of his tent and killed Humphreys.

The Hastings teen wanted to leave the campground but needed a car so he broke into the 57-year-old's camper to steal his keys and, during the burglary, stabbed Humphreys five times.

But Graham, for Williamson-Atkinson, has maintained it was another teen from the youth programme who committed the act.

The jury has heard Humphreys arrived at the campground, located along the Forgotten World Highway, on 6 May 2022.

The outdoor enthusiast was a former Royal Air Force serviceman from the United Kingdom.

At the time of his death, he lived in Rotorua where he worked at Southern Cross Healthcare as an anaesthetic technician.

He had stayed at Bushlands Campground only weeks before and was excited to be returning with the camper trailer he had just bought.

Within hours of his arrival, three Start Taranaki youth workers arrived at the camp with Williamson-Atkinson and two other teens.

The Kaponga-based organisation provides an eight-week programme to at-risk youth involving time spent in the wilderness, the beach, a marae, and in a residential space learning skills such as barbering.

Early the following morning, two of the youth workers discovered Humphreys' body as they headed to the camp's kitchen. He was lying face down on the ground, about 20 metres from his camper.

During the trial, the jury heard he was stabbed repeatedly in the torso while in his camper and then stumbled outside to presumably seek help.

Williamson-Atkinson's DNA had been found around the cut holes in the sleeping bag Humphreys was in when he was stabbed, and Humphreys' blood was found on the sleeve of the teen's jersey.

Evidence was also heard that during a conversation with a relative, Williamson-Atkinson confessed to having "killed someone".

But Graham highlighted to the jury that the relative admitted he could have misunderstood what he was told.

She also suggested cross-contamination could be the reason her client's DNA was found on the sleeping bag, and the blood may have transferred onto his sweatshirt when he went into the camper after the stabbing.

Williamson-Atkinson told police he had gone into the camper after the other teen stabbed Humphreys and taken the knife away for him.

He said the other teen had planned to steal Humphreys' car keys.

There was no forensic evidence that linked the other teen, who has refused to provide police with a DNA sample and a statement, to the stabbing.

During Justice Cooke's summation of the case, he asked the jury to apply its collective common sense to the evidence that had been heard.

He said the murder charge could be proven three ways - if the jury was sure Williamson-Atkinson was the principal offender, if they were sure the other teen killed Humphreys and Williamson-Atkinson was a party to the offending, or if they were unsure which of the two murdered Humphreys but were sure it was either of them who did it.

The other teen has permanent name suppression and has not been charged in relation to Humphreys' death.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.