Crown trumped: Hawkes Bay man successfully defends himself in trial over violent robbery

Self-confessed cannabis dealer Earl Stratham Campbell has been found not guilty of a brutal home invasion after a five-day trial in which his prison cellmate took the blame for the attack.

A jury at the Napier District Court deliberated for six and a half hours into Friday evening before finding Campbell, 37, not guilty of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.

However, they found him guilty on five counts of unlawfully possessing firearms.

The charges stemmed from the night-time attack on Havelock North man Craig Person, 72, in January last year by two men, one of whom hit him with a hammer, fracturing his skull and causing a potentially life-threatening brain bleed.

Person’s cousin found him after the attack drenched in blood from his head to his shoulders and with only the whites of his eyes showing.

The attackers had wanted guns and money. Person told him he was a pensioner and did not have any money, but the two men made off with three rifles, two shotguns and three air rifles from their victim’s gun safe.

Two of the rifles, the shotguns and a sawn-off rifle were later found in a bivouac in the bush behind Campbell’s mother’s house at Tuai, in the Wairoa district, where he was living. His new firearms convictions relate to this find.

Much of the evidence in the trial related to a white Toyota Hiace van, registered to Campbell’s aunt, in which Campbell said he kept a cellphone.

The jury was presented with tracking data from roadside cameras and cellphone towers which showed the van was driven from Tuai to Havelock North on the day of the attack and returned in the early hours of the morning after it.

However, Campbell said he was not the driver who could be seen in CCTV images wearing a fluoro vest.

He said he had lent the van to a customer of his drug-dealing business, so that person could drive to Hastings and pick up six ounces (170gm) of cannabis which Campbell had sold him for $1500.

Campbell suggested the customer wear the fluro vest to lessen the chances of being stopped by police.

“When you look like a tradie, police don’t tend to bother you,” Campbell told the court.

Campbell conducted his own defence but when he gave evidence himself, he was questioned by barrister Philip Jensen, whom Judge Bridget Mackintosh had appointed as “standby lawyer” to assist the court.

Jensen asked Campbell about his cannabis dealing.

Judge Mackintosh advised Campbell that any admissions he made in court could lead to further criminal prosecution and asked him if he wanted to proceed or take legal advice.

“We will just proceed, Your Honour. I am aware of my rights,” Campbell said.

Jensen asked Campbell if the cannabis dealing was a one-off or a regular occurrence.

“It was regular,” he replied.

Later, Campbell called his cannabis buyer to give evidence via an audio-visual link from Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison.

The man, whose name is suppressed, told the jury that he was one of the men who kicked down Person’s back door and dragged him from his bed on the night of January 29, 2021.

“I told him, ‘We’re here for the money and the guns, Man, we know you’ve got them’,” the witness said.

“I hammered him in the head. He then got defensive, so I hammered him again, in the arm,” he said.

“He then gave up the keys to the gun safe.”

Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker accused the witness of lying, saying that he had “rehearsed” the evidence with Campbell while they were in the same prison wing together in the days before the trial.

He said the witness was himself awaiting trial on a matter so serious that being held accountable for the robbery would be like “water off a duck’s back”.

“There is no big deal for you to come along here and lie about something you have nothing to do with,” Walker said.

“I swore an oath. What I said is the truth and nothing but the truth,” the witness replied.

One juror was excused on the final day when she became ill. The unanimous verdicts were decided by the remaining 11 jurors – eight women and three men.

Campbell indicated he would seek bail, which Walker opposed due to the seriousness of the firearms charges.

If Campbell is imprisoned on those, the 14 months he has spent in custody on remand will be taken into consideration.

During the trial, a footprint was taken from a panel of the door which was kicked in. The court heard that print was forensically linked to a shoe which contained the DNA of Campbell’s brother, Lex, who was assessed as not being fit to give evidence.

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