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After hearing seven weeks of evidence and deliberating for more than three days, a jury in Christchurch has failed to reach a verdict in the murder case of David Benbow.
Benbow was accused of killing his childhood friend, Michael McGrath, after beginning a relationship with Benbow’s former partner.
The Crown’s case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence – McGrath’s body and the police guns allegedly used to kill him were never found.
The jury’s seven men and five women returned to the Supreme Court courtroom Monday afternoon to announce they could not reach a verdict.
It is known as a hung jury. The jurors have now been formally dismissed.
Judge Jonathan Eaton returned Benbow on bail. He said there would likely be a new trial, with a new jury, and set a call date of May 19.
Benbow was released on bail Monday night to an address in Rolleston and on Tuesday he will fly to Whangarei and be released on bail to his father’s address in Dargaville, where he will remain under electronic surveillance on bail.
Everyone would feel “a sense of frustration” that the case was not finalized, the judge said.
It became clear that a hung jury was at stake on Monday morning when the jury returned to court around 11:30 a.m. after citing difficulty reaching a unanimous verdict. Judge Eaton told them they had the option of an 11-1 majority verdict.
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But in the end, despite deliberating for about 24 hours, they couldn’t reach a majority verdict either.
Justice Eaton addressed the jury after she dismissed them, saying, “I know it will be frustrating for you, given the attention you’ve put into the process.
“Don’t take it as personal criticism at all, and I am very aware that each of you has made a significant personal sacrifice on behalf of yourself and your families, and I thank you on behalf of the community for the effort you put in.”
A hung jury means Benbow is still charged with murder. The Crown must now decide whether to pursue a second trial – and there could be applications to have the charges dropped or withdrawn.
The jury struggled to reach a verdict
The jurors began their deliberations around 1 p.m. last Wednesday.
On Monday morning, the judge considered a written question from the jury asking for clarification on what constitutes a reasonable doubt.
Judge Eaton said the Crown would only have passed the test beyond a reasonable doubt if “you are satisfied that Mr. Benbow is guilty of murder”.
“It is not enough for the Crown to convince you that it is probably guilty or very likely guilty. However, it is virtually impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty when dealing with a reconstruction of past events,” he said.
“A reasonable doubt is a genuine and reasonable uncertainty that remains in the back of your mind about the guilt of the defendant after you have carefully and impartially considered all the evidence.
“The case against Mr. Benbow is an indirect case.
“Indirect evidence involves drawing conclusions from facts established as evidence, rather than relying on direct evidence.