A well-known social media influencer has been found guilty of preying on two teenage boys, performing sexual acts on them while they were unconscious or asleep.
Interim name suppression remains in place until sentencing for the man, who is now convicted of five counts of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection. However, jurors acquitted him of one count of sexual violation, along with three counts of blackmail and two counts of aggravated wounding by stupefaction.
It took the 11-person panel about five hours of deliberation to reach the split verdict, which came after three weeks of testimony in the High Court at Auckland.
His accusers were not in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
Justice Rebecca Edwards remanded the man in custody to await sentencing next month. Allowing him to remain on bail would not be in the best interest of justice, she said, after prosecutors noted he is likely to receive a lengthy prison term.
The defendant waved to his parents, who sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery, as guards led him away.
The man's first accuser told police and later jurors that he first met the defendant in 2015, when he was 16 and trying to make headway in the same industry as the defendant who at the time was in his late 20s. They became close friends and social media messages showed they were flirtatious at times. But the teen also clearly told the defendant that he wasn't gay and didn't want anything other than friendship, Facebook Messenger exchanges showed.
Testifying earlier this week, the defendant described the now-adult witness as a liar and a "tease" who was using him to get ahead. He said the accuser had been exploring his sexuality at the time and as a result would give mixed messages.
He denied having spiked the teen's drinks on two occasions. He also denied blackmailing the teen by threatening to destroy his reputation or release nude photos if the teen didn't relent to sexual acts. All sexual acts between the two of them were consensual, he said.
The second accuser said he was 18 years old when he twice woke up in the defendant's bed after nights of heavy drinking to find the defendant performing a sex act on him. Like the other accuser, he also acknowledged some flirtatious behaviour with the defendant but said he wasn't gay and insisted he never gave consent for any sexual acts.
Defence lawyers Susan Gray and Emma Priest suggested during the trial that the second accuser might think he's telling the truth about what happened but could be confused due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system at the time.
They pointed to confabulation, a psychological phenomenon thought to be common during partial blackouts caused by heavy drinking in which people inadvertently imagine events to fill in the gaps of what they can't remember. The false memories usually tend to be in line with someone's sense of identity, experts pointed out.
So the second accuser may have consented or given the impression he was consenting while in the midst of a blackout then refused to believe it after he sobered up, Gray suggested during her closing argument yesterday.
But both teens made it clear they weren't interested well before the nights they were intoxicated, said Crown prosecutors Sam Teppett and Charlie Wilkinson. It was clear the defendant couldn't help himself when presented with an opportunity, they said, adding that the various accusations showed a pattern of predation on the defendant's behalf.
The trial has been the second in less than a year for the defendant. He initially faced a different jury last August for the same charges. However, that trial had to be aborted after more than a week of testimony due to the nationwide lockdown caused by the Covid-19 Delta variant.