Two men have been found guilty of the grievous robbery of the Red Fox Inn and the murder of its owner Christopher Bush, which ended a 33-year mystery.
A man with name suppression and Mark Joseph Hoggart have been on trial in Auckland High Court for the past seven weeks.
Crown claimed there were two heavily disguised robbers who broke through the back door of the Maramarua Inn on a 1987 working weekend.
An unnamed defendant was believed to have fired a sawn-off double-barreled rifle and killed Bush before his three employees were tied up and stolen just over $ 36,000.
The prosecution of the infamous cold case was led by Manukau’s Crown lawyer Natalie Walker and Ned Fletcher.
After a consultation early in the evening, the jury returned the convictions for both men on both charges of aggravated robbery and murder.
A key prosecution witness and a friend of the Bush family, Sherryn Soppett, who was at the bar when the murder took place, was happy with the news.
“I’m completely across the moon, the police team, (Detective Senior Sergeant) Albie Alexander and (Detective Senior Sergeant) Mike Hayward did a wonderful job,” she told the Herald.
“I’m actually quite emotional; I’ve been waiting for justice for 33 years.
“I was really scared to testify, but the prosecution was absolutely brilliant and made it easier for me.”
She said she wanted to thank the jury, which returned the unanimous result after 18 hours of deliberation.
“It was hard to get on with life after the shooting, but I had a wonderful husband, Peter, who died two years ago. But I had two teenagers, so I had to go on. Chris definitely got it right today, I’m so happy for his family, too. Chris and Gaye are close friends of our family.
“I want to tell the men: Justice has been done for 33 years and justice is finally satisfied. I hope the judge throws the key.”
A fateful night at the Red Fox Inn
On October 24, 1987, the sunset fell at 6:45 p.m., when the farmhouse inn emptied into the night a few hours later, the court heard.
After counting the seizure, Bush had a drink with three employees; Sherryn Soppet, Stephanie Prisk and William (Bill) Wilson.
There were two drink choices that night. Kahlua, southern comfort and milk for women and half-liter beer handles for men.
Suddenly, the intruders broke through the back door of a country inn. The man who had the gun allegedly shouted that it was an armed detention.
Bush got up from the bar stool and fired a glass at the glass, leaving behind a ring of liquid and seemingly protruding shards of glass, the court heard.
But at the same moments, the shooter pressed the trigger of the sawn double-barreled rifle.
The 43-year-old father of two had no chance, prosecutors told jurors when the shot pierced his chest cavity, lungs and heart.
Walker said both offenders barely stopped to assess what they had done.
“Instead, they both started working,” she said.
During the trial, Prisk, now 66, recalled the moments that followed.
Soppet’s glasses were still on the bar, and Wilson was in complete shock.
“He just couldn’t move,” she said.
“There was only one alternative and that was me.”
She was forced to look for the keys in Bush’s pockets and hold them when she found them.
The intruders asked for help in accessing the safe, but Prisk had never seen the keys and did not know which one to use.
The offender, waving a bat, eventually kicked the door to Bush’s office so he could rob the safe, the court heard.
One by one, those who survived the fatal robbery were tied up.
It was a yellow cord, Prisk told the court.
“I remember that well.”
The incompetent group was told not to move for eight minutes, otherwise violators would be heard on the radio. The offenders fled.
Prisk described herself at the time as probably numb.
“I remember telling Sherryn we couldn’t move until we heard the car leave and we waited and there was no car.
“There was no noise. We never heard the car.”
Soppet, now 70, also recalled a sudden violent intrusion in court. Everyone was scared.
“Things like that don’t happen in our small community,” she said.
When the offenders were gone, she called her husband Peter so they wouldn’t be alone while waiting for emergency services, and the call woke up around 12:20 p.m.
Mr Soppet, now deceased, said he did not notice any other car as he drove his old J1 Bedford truck to the inn.
“If anyone was around, I’d see them. I didn’t see the lights in the car at all.”
He joined those in the tavern, but at the thought of Bush’s widow, took on the grim task of telling her the news.
“We told her what happened as gently as possible.”
He stayed with her at the house until 5 o’clock in the morning. The Soppet and Bush families were close family friends.
More than three decades after the crimes, there has been an indirect case in court.
Lawyers Christopher Stevenson for the unnamed defendant and Craig Tuck for Hoggart repeatedly said during the trial that the accused were the wrong men.
Judge Mark Woolford compared the indirect case to the rope when he summed up the case on Thursday.
Each strand alone may not support weight, but all strands together can, he said.
“The logic behind the indirect case is that the accused are either guilty or are victims of unlikely coincidences.”
Crown claimed the men were inmates who made no secret of socializing when they were outside, he said.
The prosecution argued that the couple could be placed in the area, and the movement on both sides on October 24 was in line with the offender.
In addition, prosecutors claimed the defendants lied when they told police where they were that night.
The second part of the Crown case was a financial motive. Both defendants “incomprehensibly got into the money“ after the work weekend ”to buy motorcycles and cars, the judge summed up.
An unnamed man has already been convicted of a “very similar” serious robbery that took place in Auckland in the early 1980s, he said.
In addition, the unnamed defendant had a sawn-off double-barreled rifle, which he discarded, the court heard.
Judge Woolford said the defense objected that the fact that they were friends of friends was not evidence.
Witnesses could place them in the area this weekend, but there was no direct link to the crimes, he said.
After questioning police, the defense couple claimed the couple told each other to the best of their ability for three months, he said.
Stevenson also argued that there is no real resemblance between the previous severe robbery of his unnamed party and the fatal robbery of the Red Fox tavern.
Judge Woolford said in the defense case that the unnamed defendant had several thousand dollars when he left prison and had a chance to earn more.
Possession of a firearm was relatively common even in the circle of friends of an unnamed man, the court heard.
The defense removed the rifle as he fled, “that he did not want to be falsely accused.”
Stevenson pointed a finger at Lester Hamilton as one of the real culprits.
The theory was opposed by Crown, who claimed that Hamilton’s alibi ruled him out. Stevenson disputed this.
Judge Woolford said the jury had to rule out the reasonable possibility that Hamilton was one of the offenders before it could even deal with the defendants.
He was initially the “prime suspect,” whom police say eliminated him during the investigation.
Both have been remanded in custody and will be convicted on May 7. Judge Woolford acquitted the jurors of re-service for five years.