IT was late on the night of Boxing Day 2019 and most of those who had gathered for a BBQ in a backyard at Mayfield had gone off to bed.
Only three men remained around the table out the back of Steven Michael O'Brien's place in Silsoe Street.
Things seemed calm as the men chatted and drank beers or homemade butterscotch schnapps.
But within a few minutes, after an argument between Mr O'Brien, 50, and Shaun Garry Johnson, neighbours would describe hearing bloodcurdling screams and a man shouting "get the f--- away from me, I'll f---ing kill you."
Woken by the screams, Mr O'Brien's mother would come outside to see her son running down the middle of the street shouting: "Mum he's got a knife. He's cut my throat."
And as his friend lay dying from a stab wound to the neck, Johnson would repeatedly apologise, saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry", before he desperately tried to push his 4WD away from the house.
What happened in those crucial minutes, while the three men were sat around the table in Mr O'Brien's backyard, will be the focus of a judge-alone trial in Newcastle Supreme Court this week after Johnson, now 38, of Coopernook, on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to murder.
Johnson, who will appear in court during the trial from a remote room at the courthouse due to COVID-19 concerns, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting to stabbing Mr O'Brien in the throat but claiming he was acting as a result of excessive self-defence.
The trial, before Justice Richard Cavanagh, SC, will run for about a week.
Mr O'Brien, 50, his family and friends spent Boxing Day 2019 at his home in Silsoe Street, Mayfield, and were in the backyard when Johnson 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, Johnson and another man - they key witness in the trial - in the backyard an argument started between Mr O'Brien and Johnson.
According to a Crown case statement, the key witness told police they were all sitting at the table when Johnson said: "My missus went out last night and I don't know where she went."
Mr O'Brien, according to the key witness, replied: "Well she didn't come here", to which Johnson replied: "Well it's my turn out tonight."
The key witness said Mr O'Brien was intoxicated at this point and it was this exchange that led Mr O'Brien to grab Johnson by the shirt and tell him to leave.
The witness then describes Johnson grabbing a knife, either from the table or the back of his pants, and slashing Mr O'Brien to the throat "with a backhand swiping motion followed by two quick jabs to the throat".
The witness told detectives he tackled Johnson to the ground and the pair scuffled before Johnson went outside, got into his car and reversed down Myola Street and across Silsoe Street.
The witness said he chased after Johnson and stopped his car as he went to drive into Silsoe Street.
During his opening address on Tuesday, Crown prosecutor Neil Adams, SC, said the witness would give evidence in the trial that when he went up to the driver's side of the car Johnson lunged at him with a knife through the window, striking him in the neck.
The witness said Mr O'Brien, bleeding heavily from his throat, was intent on confronting Johnson and went outside leaving a trail of blood behind him.
A number of neighbours told police they heard shouting and screaming coming from outside the house, including a man saying: "I'm gonna kill ya" and another saying "You've killed him. You've stabbed him."
They heard a car engine trying to start and what sounded like a flat battery and saw a man jump a fence and use a neighbours' tap to wash himself.
Mr O'Brien's mother, who was woken by the shouting, told police she went outside and saw her son running down Myola Street with his hand over his throat saying: "Mum he's got a knife. He's cut my throat."
He collapsed to the ground and as family members attempted to perform CPR, Johnson repeatedly apologised.
While this was happening, the witness went over to a shed in the backyard and grabbed a sledgehammer to confront Johnson. He was told to "put it down" and replied "he has killed my mate" while Johnson stood nearby saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Johnson was arrested trying to push his 4WD down the street and told the officers: "they tried to stab me", according to the Crown case statement handed up to Justice Cavanagh on Tuesday.
The witness approached and told police Johnson had stabbed Mr O'Brien and Johnson told police "he attacked me... he attacked me with fists."
He also tried to claim the witness was responsible for stabbing Mr O'Brien.
Despite resuscitation efforts, Mr O'Brien died from a wound to the throat just after midnight. Mr Adams said two knives were recovered by crime scene officers; one a Swiss army knife in the door pocket of Johnson's car and a folding knife was found under a bridge at the end of Silsoe Street.
The knives were tested and no DNA or blood was found.
Mum he's got a knife. He's cut my throat.Witnesses described hearing Steven Michael O'Brien say after he was stabbed by Shaun Johnson on the night of Boxing Day 2019.