Dane Marsden Cordner, the brother of NSW Blues skipper Boyd, has been cleared of reckless grievous bodily harm in Newcastle local court over a fight with Knights prop Jacob Saifiti last year, after Magistrate Robert Stone ruled the 29-year-old was acting in self-defence.
Mr Cordner said outside court after the verdict on Thursday that he had been through "nine months of hell" since being charged after punching Mr Saifiti, 23, outside Hamilton's Greenroof Hotel in the early hours of December 2.
In dismissing the charge - as well as a back-up charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm - Magistrate Stone was heavily critical of senior management at the Greenroof Hotel, saying scenes from CCTV footage played in court during this week's hearing "reminded me of an American wild west film" and "has to be condemned".
He also labelled Mr Saifiti's behaviour "aggressive" and ruled the Knights forward had intimidated a patron in the pub's gaming room less than an hour before Mr Cordner's punch.
When referring to Mr Saifiti's evidence given in court on Monday, Magistrate Stone called the Knights player a "poor historian" and said he was "very affected" by alcohol on the night he was punched.
He said Mr Saifiti answered questions with words to the effect of "I don't recall" on 33 occasions during cross-examination.
Magistrate Stone said he accepted evidence that Mr Saifiti told those around him he was "protected" at the Greenroof Hotel on the night of the incident.
The prop's gesturing towards a patron in the pub's gaming room during an act of "intimidating behaviour, at the very least", Magistrate Stone said, was "almost as if he had an air of entitlement to do so".
The magistrate was satisfied the Knights player took "an active role in provoking" Justin Burns, Mr Cordner's friend who grabbed Mr Saifiti by the throat shortly before the punch and had been "encouraging him to commit an act of violence".
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- Cordner felt threatened before punching Knights forward: court
- Knights prop feared he would be sacked after off-field incident
- Footage missing from alleged pokie room incident before Cordner punched Saifiti
Magistrate Stone rejected claims from the prosecution that Mr Cordner was looking for a fight in the lead-up to the punch and ruled that Mr Cordner acted out of fear when Mr Saifiti appeared, calling the single push and punch "a reasonable response" in those circumstances.
He also accepted that Mr Saifiti punched Mr Cordner and dragged his head into a pole at another Newcastle nightclub in 2016.
"I'm satisfied Mr Cordner believed he needed to act that way," Magistrate Stone said.
"There was a very real and significant risk that Mr Saifiti could act violently.
"I'm satisfied [Mr Cordner] genuinely believed it was necessary to do what he did.
"Mr Cordner had no time at all to consider his options."
Magistrate Stone said the fact that it took management at the Greenroof Hotel nine requests and more than two months to produce CCTV footage for police - ultimately providing video with missing sections - "smacks of some cover-up".
He said the meeting between hotel management and Dean Noonan - a Knights staff member - in the days after the incident was "suspicious" and "certainly no coincidence".
Mr Saifiti fell as a result of the punch and broke his ankle, requiring a plate and two screws to be surgically inserted into his leg.
Magistrate Stone said earlier on Thursday, during closing submissions, that he accepted Mr Cordner did not have to wait to be struck in order to claim self-defence.
He said the quality of evidence given by most witnesses called during the hearing was not helpful in making a determination.
"All in all, the despite the number of witnesses ... they didn't help me or help the court in determining the issue of self-defence," he said.
After the verdict, Mr Cordner broke down and hugged his legal team before embracing his father.
Outside court, he said it had been "a very, very hard nine months".
"When it first broke, my name was being put in the same sentence as 'coward punch' and for nine months I've had to live with that," he said.
"It's [been] nine months of hell. It's so relieving, it's all over."
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