Luke Tipene: Witness account disputed in court

Luke Tipene (Facebook)
Luke Tipene (Facebook)

A cousin of rising rugby league player Luke Tipene who was there the night he was fatally stabbed outside a party has taken to the stand.

Vincent Skeen is charged with Mr Tipene's murder at a Halloween party in 2014.

The Crown alleges Skeen swiped at Mr Tipene with a broken glass bottle at least seven times. It says the fatal wound was 10-12 centimetres deep and pierced the 17-year-old's jugular vein.

The second day of a scheduled two-week jury trial at the Auckland High Court got underway on Tuesday where Nadene Manukau-Togiavalu continued to give evidence.

She arrived at the Grey Lynn party with Mr Tipene after attending a family event earlier in the night. She tearfully described the moment her cousin was killed, and says she saw him clutching his throat right after Skeen lunged at him with a broken glass bottle.

Ms Manukau-Togiavalu told the court she saw her cousin "backing away" from the fight before Skeen retaliated, and says she then remembers the now 18-year-old swiping at her cousin several times with the jagged bottle.

But Skeen's defence team have disputed this, and say Ms Manukau-Togiavalu gave different evidence at the first trial.

Defence lawyer Michele Wilkinson-Smith told the court Mr Tipene's cousin never mentioned seeing the 17-year-old back away, and previously said she only saw Skeen lash out once.

Ms Manukau-Togiavalu says she didn't mention her cousin backing away at the first trial because "it wasn't relevant to what I was asked".

"It was a very distressing time, I had just seen someone stabbed my cousin. All I tried to do was get relevant info to police so I could get to hospital," she says.

Skeen's defence team implied Ms Manukau-Togiavalu may have changed her story to keep her family happy.

One of her Facebook posts from after the first trial was read out to the court. "It was not easy going [over the incident], but with great guilt and pain I said exactly what I saw. It pains me knowing there was more I could do to save you. I have been looked down on blamed, hated and even threatened by my own family members."

Ms Wilkinson-Smith asked if that meant she thought she had to change her evidence to be more helpful.

Ms Manukau-Togiavalu flatly denied this, replying: "No, not at all".

It was also revealed during cross-examination that Mr Tipene had been drinking before he arrived at the party, and after knocking Skeen to the ground had continue to punch him.

"Luke punched him very hard?"


"Once down on ground Luke kept hitting him?"

"Yes," she said.

Another cousin who also arrived at the party with Luke Tipene has also given evidence.

Taine Eason-Tipene says both he and Mr Tipene received texts and calls from their friend who was at the party, and warned them he was going to get into a fight.

When they arrived Mr Eason-Tipene says he heard arguing out on the street, and saw Skeen intervene in the "one-on-one" fight with his friend.

"Vincent started punching and kicking him. Luke then pulled Vincent out and punched him. Vincent then dropped. And then it got broken up."

Mr Eason-Tipene says he chased another teen up the street, and came back to find Mr Tipene was injured.

"He wasn't good. I then stayed with him and tried to block all of the blood from coming out."

When asked by the defence if he had gone to the party as "back-up" in the fight, Mr Eason-Tipene told the court that wasn't true, and they'd just gone there to collect their friend.

The boy who the cousins went to collect can't be named, but he described the moment he saw the extent of Mr Tipene's injuries.

"He was standing holding onto [his cousin] Nadene. He wasn't good"

"I saw a lot of blood… I just lost it and started crying, and I took my jumper off and put it around [Mr Tipene's] neck to support it".

The trial continues.