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‘Freaked out, terrified’

Two witnesses in murder trial describe night of attack.

Two teenagers involved in a fatal assault on a Tokomaru Bay man have given evidence against their two workmates who are on trial in the High Court at Gisborne for the man's murder.

Raymond Neilson, 48, had already been beaten to death when his body was set alight on his lounge room floor at his Tawhiti Street, Waima, home in the early hours of December 15 last year, the jury was previously told.

Reuben Gibson-Park, 25, and Tihei Patuwai, 30, are jointly charged with his murder. Gibson-Park is further charged with arson.

They have pleaded not guilty. Each accepts assaulting Mr Neilson but not with the intent or recklessness for murder.

Gibson-Park denies returning to the house soon after the assault and setting fire to the body. He says he went home and stayed there.

Two teenagers — close friends who are both 18 and who worked under Gibson-Park and Patuwai in a logging crew — were socialising with them ahead of the assault and involved.

Their names are withheld due to their young age and because one of them was dealt with in the youth court for his involvement.

The alleged murder escalated from an incident on the roadside at Waima in which Gibson-Park stopped his vehicle and angrily confronted Mr Neilson — a stranger — who was walking home in a drunken state.

The teens gave evidence yesterday and were cross-examined about the roles each of the group played in the assault, the motivation for it, Mr Neilson's actions, when they left and when Gibson-Park arrived home.

One of them (Witness A) said he was sober and “had not laid a finger on the guy”.

He confirmed he had not been charged with any offence, albeit he entered the man's house. He said there was no arrangement with police to avoid him being charged.

He and his friend (Witness B) “freaked out” when they heard about the man's death the next day.

Neither contacted police, who phoned them eight days later while they were away for a weekend in Tauranga.

Witness A said he made a statement “because if I hadn't I would be going to jail for something I didn't do”.

Witness B said he started drinking on the afternoon in question, and consumed at least two boxes (24 bottles) of premixed vodka drinks.

He made a number of statements to police and was charged for his part in the assault, which he described as punches to Mr Neilson's face, a kick to his face and two kicks to his ribs.

Two say they were told to search house for drugs

Witness A said he did not know why Gibson-Park first confronted Mr Neilson. Witness B thought it was because Mr Neilson hit Gibson-Park's new ute.

Witness A said Patuwai initially tried to stop the altercation at the roadside.

The teens said they and Patuwai followed Gibson-Park to the man's house. The man was holding a knife. He was not making any threats with it but yelling out it was his son's and no one should touch it.

Gibson-Park was yelling abusively and telling him to put it down. The man eventually stabbed it into a railing. Witness A said he threw it off the deck so no one could use it.

The teens each gave graphic accounts of the violent assault on Mr Neilson by Patuwai and Gibson-Park. Witness B said he was following the older men's lead by participating. Witness A pulled him away.

The teens said Gibson-Park was straddling the man, holding him down on the deck and shouting, demanding to know where his “drugs” and “acid” were. The man said there was “an ounce somewhere”.

Gibson-Park told them to search the house. Witness A said he went just inside the door for a few minutes and searched a fuse box there. No one found any drugs. Witness B said he and Patuwai looked for about 15 minutes.

Witness A said when he came out and saw the man lying, blood all over his face and still under attack, he felt sick and scared.

He saw an aluminium baseball bat and did not know why, but he showed it to Witness B, who Gibson-Park grabbed it from, then rammed it into the man's chest.

Witness A said he could not stay there so went to get Witness B’s mother's ute from the bottom of the hill.

Witness B said he was “freaked out and terrified” when he saw Gibson-Park using the bat on the man.

He waited on the roadside for Witness A to bring the ute. They waited inside the vehicle for about 10 minutes before driving to Gibson-Park's house.

They turned on music to drown out the man's screams, which they could hear, along with the sound of the bat hitting something, as they drove off.

Witness B said he had no recollection of Witness A’s claimed account of Gibson-Park approaching him at the ute with the bat raised above his head. Witness A said he thought he was about to be hit until Gibson-Park recognised him, grabbed him by the collar and told him to stay in the truck.

Witness A said Gibson-Park arrived home about 20 minutes after they got there. He was “hypo”, shaking, with blood on his shirt and hands. He said he had to go somewhere but did not say where. He and his partner left.

He did not know why other witnesses said Gibson-Park went straight upstairs.

Witness A said he and Witness B then went to a party across the road and were there about 30 minutes when they heard the town fire siren go off.

Witness B said he went straight to the party but went back to Gibson-Park's house during it. Gibson-Park had gone with his partner somewhere. When he came back from the party a second time, he saw Gibson-Park upstairs going to sleep in a bed with his children.

The two teens went home to Ruatoria and were not at Gibson-Park’s house the next day.