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Farmer feared ‘animalistic’ teen intruder in finger chop home invasion, court hears

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A man accused – with his son – of cutting off the finger of an “animalistic” teenage intruder thought he was fighting for his life, a court has heard.

William (Bill) Bruce Burr was woken by would-be burglars in his King Country home in October 2020 and, after being hit on the head with a wine bottle, got his gun and marched the pair into the kitchen, the jury has heard.

His son Shaun Bruce Burr – who is also on trial in the High Court at Hamilton – arrived soon after, and the pair are accused of beating and cutting the finger off a teenage burglar who’d stolen from William Burr three times before.

“This person is an animal. He was animalistic,” William Burr told the jury on Friday. “I had to keep myself from being killed.”

William Burr’s lawyer, Philip Morgan QC, asked jurors how they would feel being confronted by a 140kg teenager with a knife, who was threatening to kill them.

He also said what mattered was not what William Burr said afterwards or his attitude. Rather, it was about the time between when Shaun Burr arrived and the first police officer arrived.

“What matters is what was his [William Burr’s] state of mind and what he did in that 10-minute period.”

Morgan told the jury “the Crown has got it all wrong”, and said the 17-year-old who ambulance officers initially thought was unconscious told a police officer at the scene he planned to kill William Burr.

The jury at Hamilton's High Court has been told to focus on the 10 minutes between Shaun Burr arriving at his father's house and the first police officer arriving.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

The jury at Hamilton’s High Court has been told to focus on the 10 minutes between Shaun Burr arriving at his father’s house and the first police officer arriving.

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Each of the Burrs is charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and wounding with intent to injure, maiming with intent to injure, and maiming with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

William Burr was also charged with assaulting a female and assaulting with intent to injure. Both men are arguing self-defence.

Morgan said the teenager was not the unconscious, or grievously injured person ambulance officers initially thought.

When the first police officer at the scene asked the boy if he was okay – he said yes, and that he planned to kill William Burr.

He said the girl behaved herself, stayed on the floor and was not a threat, so was therefore not injured.

He said William Burr believed the circumstances to be him or the teenager.

William Burr was banged on the head with a bottle, and woke up to a torch in his eyes and yelling, the jury heard.

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William Burr was banged on the head with a bottle, and woke up to a torch in his eyes and yelling, the jury heard.

Morgan told the jury, “you have to decide whether the force he used was reasonable.”

William Burr started with detailing how he’d grown up around the teenager’s family, had known the boy since he was a child and the families knew each other well.

William Burr’s land, passed down from his parents, was adjacent to that of the boy’s family. He had gone to school, played rugby, and worked with members of the family.

The teenager had stolen William Burr’s car three times before. After the second time, his wife and daughter moved out because they were terrified and the family planned to move for good.

William Burr had been asleep when he was banged on the head with a bottle. He described opening his eyes to a torch being pointed at him, whilst hearing lots of yelling and bulldog barking.

“Give me the f…… keys. We are going to kill you. Where are the f…… keys?”

He was hit on the head again, before he swung a punch that hit someone. He kept swinging and punching, before feeling someone’s hair and grabbing it.

They continued to wrestle and William Burr said he was trying to keep the person, who he didn’t realise at the time was the girl, close to his body so that he would not get stabbed.

He then heard “leave my girlfriend alone” before another big hit on the head, with a bottle that smashed.

The crucial period for the jury is the 10 minutes between the arrival of son Shaun Burr, pictured, and the first police officer, the defense says.

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The crucial period for the jury is the 10 minutes between the arrival of son Shaun Burr, pictured, and the first police officer, the defense says.

William Burr recognised the voice, pushed the girl away and said they could have the keys.

The boy was in a rage, William Burr said.

“His eyes were just glazed. He was determined, vicious.”

William Burr told the boy the keys were in the kitchen. But, they were actually in the ensuite bathroom.

The boy told the girl to wait with William Burr while he rummaged around in the kitchen.

William Burr told the girl he would put his underwear on and help, so she left, and he grabbed the shotgun from his wardrobe.

He thought the gun was his best chance of survival.

“I’d only pull the trigger if he got up and attacked me, so I was trying to stop that happening,” William Burr said, when Morgan asked if he would shoot.

When Shaun Burr arrived, he ran straight to his father. William Burr became emotional in court, as he remembered when they looked into each other’s eyes.

William Burr said he had only looked away from the teenagers for two seconds, but the boy had moved when he looked back.

He told Shaun Burr to “get him down”, and his son punched the boy in the face and knocked him to the floor.

Both men were hitting the boy and demanding he put his hands out, in efforts to get the knife. He would not.

William Burr had earlier tried to secure a window with a broken latch, and had jammed it with a piece of wood. He grabbed the wood and used that.

He told the boy they would cut off his hand if he didn’t put his hand out.

William Burr said he grabbed a knife, passed it to Shaun Burr, and said to the boy, “If you don’t put your hand out we’ll cut your finger off”.

Shaun Burr made a small cut on his finger as a warning, but it didn’t work, so William Burr told him to “cut it off”.

After the first police officer arrived he admitted being offensive, but said he was worried about Shaun Burr being blamed for what happened because he was young and fit.

So, he told everyone he did it. “I kept the story up that I cut the finger off.”

Crown prosecutor Rebecca Mann asked William Burr in cross-examination why he didn’t just give the teenager the keys.

“I had to get him out, he wanted to stab me,” William Burr said.

“You thought you’d calm him down by lying to him?” Mann asked.

“This person is an animal. He was animalistic,” William Burr said.

He would not accept that giving him the car keys was an option.

“He would have knifed me if I had given them the keys, so I couldn’t call the police.”

His evidence would continue on Monday.

“He was very proud”

On Thursday, Cheryl Clark told the jury she was getting her hair done in Ōtorohanga when William Burr came in and boasted about what happened.

Clark was at Sherie’s Hair Studio, about a week after the incident, when William Burr came in to apologise for missing an earlier appointment.

One of the hairdressers suggested he tell Clark, a non-sworn police staff member, about the home invasion.

As he did, William Burr pulled out his phone to show her photos of the scene.

She saw the injured teenager and his girlfriend face down on the kitchen floor, emergency services, and the scene.

“He was very proud. Almost excited, energized. He was boasting about what he had done,” Clark said.

A middle-of-the-night Snapchat message received by an ambulance officer's husband was a photo of the patient she'd just treated (file photo).

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A middle-of-the-night Snapchat message received by an ambulance officer’s husband was a photo of the patient she’d just treated (file photo).

St John ambulance officer Mandi Barnsdall told the jury she had returned home from the treating the teenage boy at William Burr’s property to find a photo of her patient on her husband’s phone.

It was about 4am and she was getting ready for bed when her husband’s phone flashed with a Snapchat message from Shaun Burr.

The pair were friends and in a group on the social media platform for local men.

Barnsdall woke her husband and opened the message. She saw a picture of the teenager on the kitchen floor, face down in blood, with the caption “get him killers”.

Simon Lance, Shaun Burr’s lawyer, said “killers” was a term used by the group of men in place of “bro”.

Due to the way the social media platform works, the photograph and message disappeared once opened.

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