1 May 2013

Murder verdict in 1979 cold case trial

9:35 pm on 1 May 2013

A High Court jury has taken less than three hours to find a 72-year-old man guilty of murdering a service station attendant nearly 34 years ago.

Menzies Hallett was on trial in the Rotorua High Court charged with murdering Rodney Tahu early on 16 August 1979.

The 31-year-old was shot in the head and shoulder in the town of Turangi and died later in hospital.

The jury began its deliberations at 11.30am on Wednesday and returned with the verdict at 2.15pm.

Hallett stood expressionless in the dock as the jury's foreperson announced the decision.

But sobs were heard from the public gallery where Rodney Tahu's family had been seated throughout the trial. Some family members also sang a waiata outside the court afterwards.

Justice Duffy remanded Hallett in custody for sentencing on 12 July.

The cold case was brought back before the courts after evidence laws were changed, allowing Susan Sharpe, who was Menzies Hallett's wife at the time of the killing, to give evidence against him.

Outside court, Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said it is rare for a murder so long ago to come before the courts, but Ms Sharpe's evidence was strong because Hallett had told her what he had done just hours after the murder.

Mr Pilditch said the guilty verdict is a pleasing outcome for the prosecution, police and the Tahu family.

"The police did a great job of reviving the file ... obviously it's harder to reconstruct events from 33 years ago rather than three or four years ago. But at the end of the day, we were able to and we got there."

Colin Hair, the husband of Mr Tahu's widow, said it has been a long wait for justice and it's the verdict the family have wanted to hear.

Mr Hair told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday it was tough knowing that Menzies Hallett was walking around scot-free for so long.

He said it has been an emotional roller-coaster and there has been an enormous amount of anger, but now the family can get closure and move on.

Detective Inspector Mark Loper, who led the re-investigation of the case, said all homicide files are reviewed regularly and Wednesday's verdict shows that people who have committed crimes should not stop looking over their shoulder.

Taupo mayor Rick Cooper said people in the community always knew that Menzies Hallett killed Rodney Tahu and they're pleased he has finally beeen brought to justice. Mr Cooper said locals were horrified and shocked by the crime, as Mr Tahu was well-loved and respected.