Whenuapai homicide: Bombshell in police interview after claims victim ‘fell’ on knife

A young father said he was on a recliner chair when he pulled a knife and stabbed Coubin Tamatoa in the eye during a freak accident.

But after listening to murder-accused Isaac Allen Harnwell’s version of events for more than hour, a detective revealed Tamatoa died from a chest wound.

“Well that wasn’t me. And it can’t be from that same knife,” Harnwell responded during a police interview played to the High Court at Auckland today.

Harnwell insisted someone else must have stabbed 31-year-old Tamatoa in the chest.

He also claimed he left a trail for police, including his own discarded clothes, after the fatal Whenuapai stabbing last year.

The 34-year-old Whangārei man has pleaded not guilty to Tamatoa’s murder.

He fled after the stabbing. Armed police enticed him from a cavity in an Onehunga ceiling about a week later.

Detective Sergeant Tess Kai Fong interviewed Harnwell.

“He mentioned leg injuries and anxiety from an assault from a year earlier,” Kai Fong told jurors today.

“You were hiding in a room … trying to get up into the roof to hide from us,” Kai Fong told Harnwell in the interview on August 12 last year.

Harnwell said he was writing a letter to be read at Tamatoa’s funeral after Tamatoa died at a Trig Rd property.

Harnwell told the detective he’d been hiding at the Trig Rd house that night, adding: “They had guns and what-not and they come down to give it to me.”

Jurors heard Tamatoa was accused of stealing meth precursor ephedrine from Trig Rd, where his ex-girlfriend Ranee Rapihana lived.

Harnwell said he could hear Tamatoa and other men at the house, along with a few women, before the homicide.

He claimed the men confiscated the women’s electronic devices.

“He pretty much kidnapped them … it was ugly, it was terrifying.

“I could hear him beating up Ranee. I was pretty much stuck in the lounge for a good hour-and-a-half, maybe.”

Harnwell said he heard Tamatoa demanding to know where he was – and then Tamatoa found him.

“He’s looked over and he’s seen me. I don’t know if he was holding a gun or not.”

Harnwell told the detective Tamatoa said something like: “There you are, you little c***. I’m gonna kill you.”

The murder-accused said he grabbed a knife and Tamatoa fell.

“Because it’s a wobbly chair, like a La-Z-Boy type thing. When he grabbed me, I grabbed the knife and he fell at the same time,” Harnwell said.

“I launched back and that’s when he fell … He’s quite a large boy, you know, and he’s fallen on to the knife.”

Harnwell said he tried helping Tamatoa but the knife blade was broken.

“The blade must have been in his eye.”

Kai Fong said she’d get Harnwell a cigarette. The recording stayed on and after a fewminutes, Harnwell muttered to himself with his head in his hands.

“F***en clumsy,” he said.

Members of the public including some of Tamatoa’s loved ones have been attending much of the trial.

Some walked out when this part of the interview was played, and when the recording of Harnwell’s depiction of the stabbing was presented.

‘Mysterious things happen out West’

Harnwell told Kai Fong he didn’t stay longer to help Tamatoa, because he feared for his own life.

After the stabbing, Harnwell ventured through several properties on Auckland’s northwest fringe until persuading a local man to give him a lift to Massey.

“I ended up going down the bank past the river and I left my shades there so youse could find my shades, just in case,” he told Kai Fong.

After Kai Fong revealed the chest wound caused Tamatoa’s death, Harnwell said he was being framed.

Harnwell said he had some memory problems, used meth, and was previously “chopped up” in West Auckland, when his legs, face and arms were injured.

“Mysterious things happen out West, you know what I mean?” he told the detective.

Harnwell said he was shot at shortly before the Trig Rd Stabbing.

The Crown has said Harnwell hated Tamatoa and blamed him for the shooting.

Prosecutors also said that even if Tamatoa behaved badly on his last night alive, he did not deserve to die, and Harnwell had plenty of chances to leave before stabbing him.

The defence has said Harnwell was acting either in self-defence or to defend Rapihana.

The trial continues.

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