The crime scene in Lismore.
The crime scene in Lismore. Mia Armitage

Accused murderer was 'tired of abuse' from neighbour

LISMORE man Nicholas Paul Howland said he was in "fear of his life" when his heavy-set neighbour in their block of units attacked him out of the blue on a late afternoon in early September.

The neighbour, David Anthony Marriott, had a history of verbally abusing the 61-year-old man, even once telling him he wished he got "run over".

He was some 40-60kg heavier than his neighbour, and had no trouble holding him down and clutching him by the throat.

But a desperate Howland fought back, and struck Marriott several times in the face.

Then something unexpected happened.

Marriott stopped breathing, turned blue, and later died.

Howland was charged with murder by police just hours later.

This version of events was put to Lismore Magistrate David Heilpern by Howland's solicitor Hugh van Dugteren yesterday in a lengthy bail application in Lismore Local Court.

Howland has spent the last two months in Sydney's Parklea jail over the charges.

A key piece of evidence revealed in court was a preliminary autopsy report indicating Marriott had a prior heart condition which may have contributed to his sudden demise.

Mr van Dugteren also argued that Howland was acting in self-defence.

"He was attacked by a man some 40-50kg heavier than him," Mr van Dugteren said.

"My submission is it's not a voluntary fight, this man is subject to abuse by [Marriott] on a regular basis.

"He was tired from the abuse of this man."

The solicitor argued during a subsequent interview police had "tried to corner" Howland into implicating himself as the aggressor, but Howland's answers to those questions were consistent "with an absolute defence of self-defence", van Dugeteren said.

"Throughout the record of the interview he makes it clear ... [he said] 'I was under the impression I was under threat'," Mr van Dugteren said.

"It's a situation your Honour where we don't even know if the defendant has caused the death of Mr Marriott ... Mr Marriott probably caused the death himself by getting so angry and attacking the defendant."

In his ruling on the bail application Magistrate Heilpern said he had only granted bail for a murder charge on one previous occasion, but "I would characterise the prosecution case as weak".

He said the accused man was strangled, and responded by punching Marriott because he "feared for his life"... and the "overwhelming impression" was "he did what he did in order to protect himself".

He also said the prosecution had already conceded a heart condition may have played a role in Marriott's demise, and "one would have thought if punches had caused death there would be more than light facial trauma".

"It would be a terrible injustice for a person to spend long periods in jail where there is a reasonable chance the person would be acquitted," he told the court.

He said Howland had a "very limited criminal history" and had no risk of reoffending.

Howland was granted bail on the condition that he report daily to Lismore police station, did not apply for a passport, and avoided deliberate contact with the deceased's family.

A trial is expected in the second half of 2017.

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