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SHANE Holmes has been acquitted of murder, with a jury finding he did not intend to seriously injure his old school mate Chad Hadden when he punched him once - causing him to fall back and suffer injuries that would ultimately claim his life - during a drunken argument in January, 2018.
Holmes, 46, of Woodberry, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter but not guilty to murder and faced a two-week trial in Newcastle Supreme Court focusing on his state of mind and intention at the time he threw the fatal blow outside the Queens Wharf Hotel.
The pair were drinking in the outdoor area of the hotel on the afternoon of January 14, 2018, when they started arguing over a missing tobacco pouch and had to be separated by security.
They were both kicked out and sent in opposite directions, but came together again on the street where Holmes said Mr Hadden threatened him and "nearly poked his eye out" and Holmes punched him once, causing him to "hit the deck" and suffer serious head injuries.
Holmes, according to witnesses, then stood over Mr Hadden and punched him repeatedly in the head.
One witness claimed he heard Holmes say: "you dog ass c---".
Holmes said Mr Hadden was conscious on the ground and he only slapped him on the face.
Holmes gave evidence during the trial and under cross-examination from Crown prosecutor Rob Munro, said the confrontation with Mr Hadden outside the hotel unfolded too quickly to "talk him down" and he chose to punch him in the head.
He repeatedly denied suggestions that he was trying to hurt or injure Mr Hadden when he threw the punch and said he just reacted to Mr Hadden poking him in the face and threatening to kill him.
He denied he was angry at Mr Hadden for earlier accusing him of stealing his tobacco, which resulted in the pair wrestling inside the hotel and getting kicked out by security.
But he later said anger was one of the emotions he was feeling.
"It's hard to say because it was so quick and I just reacted to what he had done to me," Holmes said. "With having the word "kill" and when he said "kill" he struck me in the face, I just reacted with a punch."
Mr Hadden died in hospital on June 27, 2018, with an autopsy revealing his cause of death was complications from blunt force head injuries.
Expert medical evidence suggested it was the first punch that significantly contributed to Mr Hadden's death and the trial focused on Holmes's state of mind and intention at that moment.
Holmes maintained he did not intend to seriously injure Mr Hadden, an old school mate who, a few weeks before the fight, he had renewed a friendship with.
And after listening to two weeks of evidence and addresses and deliberating for about 19 hours, the jury agreed, finding that he did not have the requisite intention at the time he threw the punch that ultimately proved fatal.
The proceedings were a re-trial with a jury in March 2020 left hopelessly deadlocked on the issue of intent after deliberating for more than 24 hours - a period approaching the length of the evidence in the trial.
These proceedings appeared destined to end the same way, with the jury twice writing notes to suggest they were deadlocked before Justice Stephen Campbell gave them a majority verdict direction late on Thursday.
The jury then asked if they could continue deliberating for an additional hour and returned some 25 minutes later to find Holmes not guilty of murder.
Holmes teared up, his bottom lip quivering as the verdict was read out.
Holmes will face a sentence hearing for manslaughter in May.