THE man accused of murdering father-of-three Steven O'Brien in a backyard at Mayfield on Boxing Day last year has pleaded not guilty, with the trial likely to come down to the evidence and credibility of the sole witness to the stabbing.
Shaun Garry Johnson, 37, of Coopernook, was represented by solicitor Mark Ramsland when he appeared in Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday charged with murder.
Mr Ramsland indicated last week that Johnson intends to plead not guilty and dispute the evidence of the crucial witness at a trial in Newcastle Supreme Court likely next year.
And on Wednesday, Johnson was committed for trial to NSW Supreme Court. He will next appear in court next month when he will be arraigned, formally plead not guilty and get a trial date.
Mr O'Brien, his family and friends spent Boxing Day at his home in Silsoe Street, Mayfield, and were in the backyard when Mr Johnson, described by police as one of Mr O'Brien's good friends, joined them later in the evening.
The group were all drinking alcohol and socialising happily for a number of hours, witnesses have said.
But sometime after Mr O'Brien's parents had gone to bed - leaving only Mr O'Brien, Mr Johnson and another man in the backyard - an argument began between Mr O'Brien and Mr Johnson.
Detectives believe the altercation was related to a woman.
Mr Johnson is alleged to have pulled a large knife from out of the back of his pants and began swinging the weapon around erratically towards Mr O'Brien, slashing his throat.
He then allegedly stabbed Mr O'Brien twice to the chest and torso area.
The third man in the backyard - the key witness - told police he attempted to restrain Mr Johnson and received a number of cuts as Mr Johnson allegedly continued to thrash around.
Mum he's got a knife. He's cut my throat.Steven O'Brien called out to his mother.
Mr O'Brien's mother heard screaming and told police she came outside to see Mr O'Brien running down the middle of Myola Road, which intersects with Silsoe Street, yelling: "Mum he's got a knife. He's cut my throat."
Witnesses told police they could see Mr Johnson running behind Mr O'Brien chasing him.
Mr O'Brien collapsed and his family began CPR, while Mr Johnson was allegedly yelling "I'm sorry".
With witnesses coming to Mr O'Brien's aid and emergency services on the way, Mr Johnson is accused of running over to his vehicle and making several failed attempts to get it started.
Mr Johnson was also allegedly spotted jumping a fence into a backyard to another house in Silsoe Street and washing his hands before returning to his vehicle, according to detectives.
He was arrested pushing his vehicle down the street in an attempt to jump start it.
Meanwhile, Mr O'Brien was in a critical condition and being rushed to John Hunter Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
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