After more than a year of intense media attention and seeing his case shift NSW law, Shaun McNeil sobbed in the dock as he was found not guilty of the one-punch murder of Sydney teenager Daniel Christie.
The 27-year-old was instead found guilty on Thursday of the offence he admitted – the manslaughter of the 18-year-old in Sydney’s Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve in 2013.
Daniel died in hospital on January 11, 2014, days after McNeil’s single blow knocked him to the ground and caused him to hit his head on the pavement.
McNeil had been walking along Darlinghurst Road with his girlfriend, Sonya Walker, at about 9pm when three teens approached and asked the pair if they wanted to buy drugs.
This sparked a row and McNeil, wrongly believing Daniel was involved, turned on him and delivered the fatal blow.
The attack on Daniel happened just metres from where Thomas Kelly, 18, was fatally punched by Kieran Loveridge on July 7, 2012.
The media response was immediate.
McNeil’s black and white image of himself looking beefed up with his tongue out was everywhere.
A day before Daniel’s funeral then Premier Barry O’Farrell announced cabinet would consider better alcohol licensing regulation.
By the end of the month he said parliament would be recalled early to pass a one-punch law that would carry a mandatory sentence for assaults when alcohol or drugs are involved.
Controversial lock-out laws in Kings Cross and central Sydney were also introduced.
The crown has since said although McNeil had been drinking he was not showing signs of being drunk at the time and there was no evidence to suggest drugs contributed to the offence.
In a pre-trial hearing in March this year, McNeil’s barrister Chris Smith SC said his client had been painted as violent and dishonest and his earlier convictions for assaulting Ms Walker had also been aired.
He also pointed to a fictional Facebook page and Reddit where people posted comments, including “Feed the coward to the pigs. This scum is doing min 10 years if not I’m starting a riot on the streets”.
The media outcry was so intense and so prejudicial the trial should be heard by a judge alone, Mr Smith argued.
But while Justice Peter Johnson agreed the coverage was prejudicial, he found the time lapsed between the initial stories and the trial was sufficient.
Earlier on Thursday, Justice Hulme told the jury just because the punch resulted in serious bodily harm you could not “reason backwards” to the point that it was what McNeil intended.
Daniel’s father Michael Christie who sat in the gallery taking notes throughout the trial was not in court for the verdict on Thursday. The news was broken to him outside court by prosecutors.
McNeil will return to court for sentencing proceedings on August 21.