Pathologist: No doubt Luke Tipene died from stab wound to neck

Luke Tipene (Facebook)
Luke Tipene (Facebook)

The actions of a man accused of killing young rugby star Luke Tipene were a "mistake in the heat of the moment with tragic consequences", his defence lawyers have argued.

Vincent Skeen, 17, is on trial for killing Mr Tipene at a part in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn last year, with the Crown alleging he stabbed him in the neck with a broken beer bottle.

But defence lawyer Lorraine Smith says his actions were a mistake and her client had no idea striking out at the 17-year-old might lead to his death.

"[He] accepts and has always accepted that he is guilty of homicide," Ms Smith said in summing up this afternoon.

"He accepts that he is guilty of manslaughter. What he doesn’t accept is that when he struck out at Luke Tipene that he intended to kill Luke or knew that he might kill him.

Ms Smith said right from the beginning, Skeen never denied killing Mr Tipene and never tried to avoid responsibility for what he had done.

Skeen was an adolescent who did something silly and "the events of last October will affect him for the rest of his life", she said.

Ms Smith stressed to the jury that in order for them to convict Skeen of murder it was necessary for the Crown to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" he knew the risks associated with stabbing Mr Tipene with the bottle.

"There must be a conscious realisation that death might result and a decision - no matter how hasty - to go ahead and take the risk. It is simply not enough to think that he should have known or that he might have known.

"You simply can't be sure beyond reasonable doubt that Vincent had murderous intent."

Skeen simply lashed out at Mr Tipene during a street fight and was not aiming for his neck, Ms Smith said.

"There was no evidence that Vincent had any idea where he had connected, just that he had connected. He just didn’t appreciate the seriously of it.

"You don’t, ladies and gentlemen, murder someone in front of a crowd of witnesses," Ms Smith said.

Earlier today the Crown summed up its case against Skeen, with lawyer Brian Dickey telling the jury the case centred on the question of intent.

"What's absolutely certain is that the defendant Vincent Skeen punched, stabbed or thrust a jagged beer bottle into Luke Tipene's throat.

"Everybody knows that you can't cut the throat of another without risking death. [..] This is plainly, with the greatest respect, a case of murder".

Mr Dickey told the jury there was no excuse for Skeen's actions and that it was irrelevant whether they believed he felt regret or remorse for what he did.

"People who kill other people usually regret what they do," he said.

"Murder is murder if you mean to cause an injury that might at that time cause death."

Even after the death Skeen remained indifferent, offering no assistance and showing "no concern at the time or in the immediate aftermath for Luke Tipene", Mr Dickey said.

He added there was no question Mr Tipene was killed by a broken bottle, "an awful, awful, lethal weapon...a glass dagger".

"He got him and he got him really good. He killed him. What more do you want for murder than that?"

As Mr Dickey summed up the Crown's case, Skeen sat with his head bowed in the dock.

This morning the court heard from a pathologist who performed the autopsy on Mr Tipene's body.

Dr Paul Morrow, who appeared in the Auckland High Court via audio-visual link said Mr Tipene's body had numerous wounds on it including scrapes and abrasions, blunt force injuries and a severe stab wound to his neck.

He said there was no doubt the teen died from a stab wound to the neck which cut through his jugular vein.

The stab wound was around 3-5cm long with a depth of 10-12cm and was caused by a sharp object entering the body "from left to right and slightly downwards".

When asked by Mr Dickey if the wound could have been caused by a broken beer bottle, Dr Morrow said an instrument "such as" a jagged bottle neck – something  ''with an upper and lower edge cutting in parallel" - could have inflicted the damage. Under cross examination he said there was no way he could be sure what caused the injury.

The wound went from the left side of the neck and around the base of the neck, passing through the jugular vein, the larynx and the wind pipe, with the cut jugular being "a source of severe bleeding in this wound", Dr Morrow told the court.

He said it was difficult to know the exact length of the incision on Mr Tipene's neck as surgeons had to cut into the wound to gain access and try and save the teen.

Mr Tipene died around 4:40am on November 1 last year after around four hours of resuscitation attempts.

Dr Morrow said there was no doubt Mr Tipene died due to being stabbed in the neck, saying he died of "complications of bleeding from this wound to the neck".

The trial is currently in its second week with Justice Mark Woolford scheduled to sum up tomorrow before the jury begin deliberations.

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