WAS it a split-second reaction to being threatened, a drunken punch that tragically killed an old school mate?
Or was the fatal blow that Shane Holmes landed outside the Queens Wharf Hotel on an afternoon in January 2018 thrown in anger and with the intent to cause Chad Hadden really serious injury? Was it murder or manslaughter?
It's a relatively narrow issue for a jury to consider, but on Thursday, for the second time in less than 12 months, it appeared that a jury was going to be unable to determine whether or not Holmes had the intention to cause "really serious bodily injury" - a state of mind necessary for the prosecution to prove murder - in the moment he threw the punch that some five months later would claim the life of Mr Hadden. And, therefore, it appeared they would be unable to reach a verdict.
The two trials, before two juries, run differently by two defence barristers, were ending the same way; first with jury notes asking about the issue of intent and for further explanation of what constitutes "really serious bodily injury" and then with correspondence saying they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, that they were hopelessly deadlocked and had reached a stalemate.
But in a period of about 25 minutes late on Thursday afternoon something changed.
After receiving another note about the jury's inability to agree, Justice Stephen Campbell called them in to take a poll and ask three of them the same question: what, in their estimation, was the chance that the jury would reach a unanimous verdict.
The answers varied and Justice Campbell gave them a majority verdict direction, indicating he would accept a verdict of 11-1.
It was 3.45pm, approaching the end of the day, but the jury asked to sit on for another 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.
There was a stifled whimper from the public gallery, where both families had been warned against reacting emotionally.
With having the word 'kill' and when he said 'kill' he struck me in the face, I just reacted with a punch.Shane Holmes said during his murder trial.
This jury didn't know it but the proceedings were a re-trial with another 12 men and women in March 2020 left hopelessly deadlocked on the same issue of intent after deliberating for more than 24 hours - a period approaching the length of the evidence in the trial.
After nearly a year's wait behind bars, Holmes, 46, of Woodberry, went to trial again in Newcastle Supreme Court earlier this month. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter but not guilty to murder and the two-week trial focused again on his state of mind and intention at the time he threw the fatal blow outside the Queens Wharf Hotel.
The jury heard that Holmes and Mr Hadden 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 the head injuries that would ultimately claim his life.
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 gave evidence during the trial and under cross-examination 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 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 also denied he was angry at Mr Hadden for earlier accusing him of stealing his tobacco. 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 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 his 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.
And, after listening to two weeks of evidence and addresses and deliberating for about 19 hours, the jury agreed.
Holmes will be sentenced for manslaughter in May.