Jury struggles to decide if teen guilty of murder

Luke Tipene (file)
Luke Tipene (file)

The jury in the Luke Tipene murder trial has failed to reach a verdict, meaning Vincent Skeen will face a retrial.

The 17-year-old is accused of murdering promising young rugby league player Mr Tipene, also 17, during a fight outside a party on November 1 last year.

After a day- and-a-half of deliberations however, the jury remained deadlocked and were dismissed by Justice Mark Woolford.

There were audible sighs from the public gallery as the announcement was made, while members of Skeen's family called "Love you mate" as he was led away from the dock.

Skeen – who will next appear on September 23 when it is hoped a new trial date will be set – waved to his supporters as he left the court room.

The six men and six women began considering their verdict around 11am Thursday. Early this afternoon they told Justice Woolford a unanimous decision looked unlikely and were given permission to seek a majority decision, where 11 of the 12 jurors must agree.

Two hours later however, they sought further advice from the judge saying a decision still seemed elusive.

Justice Woolford then informed the jury he was prepared to dismiss them if the stalemate could not be broken, but reminded them of their oath to do their best and urged them to keep trying.

"Judges always hesitate to discharge a jury because it usually means the case has to be retried in front of another jury, and experience shows juries can usually agree in the end," Justice Woolford said.

"Remember that a view that is honestly held can equally be honestly changed", he said before sending them out for one final attempt to reach a verdict.

He also reminded jurors of the importance not to change an honestly held view merely to avoid disagreement.

Mr Tipene's uncle Sean Wilson expressed disappointment at the lack of closure in the case, saying it would be "frustrating and heartbreaking" to have to relive the fateful night once again through a retrial.

During the two-week trial the court heard how Skeen stabbed Mr Tipene in the neck with a broken bottle after a fight broke out after a house party in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn.

The jagged bottle neck, which the Crown prosecution described as a "glass dagger" entered the left side of Mr Tipene's neck, leaving a wound 10-12cm deep that cut through his jugular vein, voice box and wind pipe.

Surgeons spent around four hours trying to save him before he was pronounced dead around 4:40am.

Skeen's defence never denied he killed Mr Tipene, but said it was a case of manslaughter, not murder.

Before the jury began their deliberations yesterday, Justice Woolford told them the critical issue of the case rested on whether Skeen had murderous intent when he delivered the fatal blow.

If he struck Mr Tipene with the intent of killing him, or if he knew there was a chance his actions might kill him but he proceeded anyway, then he should be found guilty of murder, Justice Woolford said.

If they were satisfied he killed him but could not "beyond reasonable doubt" be sure he had murderous intent at the time, a conviction of manslaughter should be given, he said.

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