Two week OMC shooting trial comes to an end with mixed verdicts

highway 61

Following a two week jury trial, a Taranaki man has been found guilty of shooting up a Highway 61 OMC pad but has been cleared of a subsequent shooting at the home of one of its patched members.

On Friday morning, after hearing from more than 50 Crown witnesses over the past fortnight, the trial of Mitchell Whittaker, heard in New Plymouth District Court, came to a close and the jury began deliberating. 

About 5pm, the jury returned guilty verdicts on a charge of aggravated burglary and discharging a firearm with intent relating to the December 5, 2017 incident where two cars were driven into the compound of the Highway 61 motorcycle club headquarters in Norman St, Waitara, and the vehicles’ occupants opened fire.

But Whittaker was found not guilty on a charge of commission of a crime with a firearm and arson which related to a second incident occurring eight days later and saw someone pump four rounds into Highway 61 member Trini Tito’s cars, parked at the front of his Warre St address.

The car, taken from a New Plymouth complainant for “Black Power business” and said to be used in the Warre St shooting, was subsequently driven to the field of Waitara Central School and set on fire.

In her final address, defence lawyer Kylie Pascoe said the shootings were carried out by Black Power in an effort to maintain control of the area.

She said Whittaker was not a member of any gang and the Crown had no evidence to place him at either crime scene. 

In evidence, Detective Sergeant Gerard Bouterey told the jury Black Power was the largest and strongest club in Taranaki.

“This offending appeared indicative of the Black Power seeking to continue to dominate,” Pascoe said.

“[It was] club rivalry pure and simple.”

But Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke said while there were Black Power members involved in the offending, the dispute with Highway 61 was not about territory.

She said it was personal to Whittaker and his mate James Thomson.

Days before the December 5 incident, Thomson, a former patched member of Highway 61, was kicked out of the club and out of Tito’s Warre St address where he had been living. 

It was heard Thomson and Tito had fallen out over the use of tools. 

Thomson and Whittaker set forth to intimidate the Highway 61 OMC, which the Crown alleged was reflected in evidenced text messages between Whittaker and his associates. 

By this time, Whittaker was “well and truly” linked to the Black Power and he set about enlisting the help of its members in the shootings. 

While it had been proven Whittaker knew Black Power members, Pascoe said it was not proof he joined in with the club to intimidate the Highway 61.

Thomson was arrested on December 7 for his “central role” in the shooting.

Clarke argued Whittaker carried on with his and Thomson’s vendetta, and subsequently shot up Tito’s address. 

But Pascoe said the Crown’s suggestion the shooting stemmed from a “minor tools dispute” between Tito and Thomson was to “grossly understate the conflict”.

She referenced the equipment and material capable of being used in the manufacture of methamphetamine and firearms located by police at the Highway 61’s club pad following the first shooting. 

That background information was important, she submitted, as it confirmed there were matters going on with the Highway 61 OMC which had the potential to lead to club conflict.

“There was a lot more going on that we will never know about due to the club code.”

The trial kicked off with co-offenders Caleb Whittaker and Sharif Moke also defending charges of aggravated burglary and discharging a firearm in relation to the earlier incident.

However, last Thursday they each entered guilty pleas to the firearm charge and the aggravated burglary charge was dismissed.

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Source: Stuff