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Man who stabbed Auckland MMA fighter to death acquitted on self-defence grounds

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Tue, 19 Mar 2024, 7:19AM
Auckland-based MMA instructor Kevin Hay, 50, was stabbed to death in August 2022. The person who killed him has been acquitted of murder.
Auckland-based MMA instructor Kevin Hay, 50, was stabbed to death in August 2022. The person who killed him has been acquitted of murder.

Man who stabbed Auckland MMA fighter to death acquitted on self-defence grounds

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Tue, 19 Mar 2024, 7:19AM

The fatal stabbing of well-known Auckland mixed martial arts fighter Kevin “Honey Badger” Hay outside a North Shore residence two years ago was legally justified after he started an unprovoked fight, jurors have decided.  

But a 58-year-old co-defendant’s decision to continue pummelling Hay after he had been stabbed - and then eye-gouge a police officer during his arrest later that night - did violate the law, the same group determined in a mixed verdict that saw one man leave the dock a free man and another shaking his head.  

Peter Robert Greene, 57, who admitted in the witness box to having stabbed Hay, was acquitted of both murder and manslaughter late yesterday afternoon after roughly two days of jury deliberations in the High Court at Auckland. Darren Troy Couper, however, was found guilty of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and one count of aggravated assault on a police officer.  

The co-defendants, both wirey men with close-cropped grey hair, hugged as Greene left the courtroom with his lawyer. Justice Peter Andrew set a May sentencing date for Couper, who stood with his head bowed and his eyeglasses in his hand as his bid to remain on bail until then was rejected.  

Hay, a barrel-chested 50-year-old with a history of mental health problems and a reputation for being a fierce fighter, had shown up unannounced at Greene’s home near the border of Northcote and Hillcrest on the night of August 16, 2022 - at first banging on the garage door then walking up the stairs to Greene’s deck, where he began the at-first one-sided attack on Couper. 

The confrontation was caught on CCTV and played for jurors repeatedly throughout the two-week trial. 

Hay had tens of thousands of fans on social media, where he frequently posted quickfire demonstrations of how to make opponents submit in a fight. Volunteers who posed as opponents in the how-to videos often winced as Hay calmly explained the rapid succession of holds, some of which were meant to break bones if applied at full force. Other videos, some of which were played for jurors by the defence, showed him putting opponents in chokeholds designed to make them lose consciousness. 

A black belt in pankration and luta livre martial arts, he was a self-described instructor of “street-style combatives”, which he called “the brutal art”.’ 

Although trained in kung fu, both defendants were well aware of Hay’s superior martial arts prowess on the night he showed up at Greene’s house, they said in the witness box. Hay had caused trouble there before, taking a baseball bat to a car a month earlier after no one came to the door. 

This time, Couper said, he went outside to try to calm Hay, an acquaintance who he had previously been asked to help with his mental health issues. But the intruder couldn’t be reasoned with and Couper began taking unprovoked blows, he said. 

“It was unrelenting. It was fear-inducing,” lawyer Marie Dyhrberg, KC, who represented Couper, said of Hay’s attack during her closing address last week. “Troy Couper was locked into that fight - no escape, no choices. Survival was the only thing on his mind. 

“...This would be anyone’s worst nightmare.” 

The terror intensified, Dyhrberg argued, when the two tumbled to the ground - described as Hay’s “comfort zone” - and Hay tried putting him in a chokehold. 

“His adrenaline kicked in,” she said of her client. “He was thinking of his children. He was thinking the worst was going to happen.” 

At some point during the fight, co-defendant Greene was seen on CCTV walking out on to the deck with two knives in his hand then stabbing Hay once. The wound punctured Hay’s liver and caused his death later that night. 

But at that point, prosecutors said, Couper was on top of Hay and already clearly had the upper hand. While Couper might have started out returning punches in self-defence, the roughly 50 punches he threw after the stabbing were nothing of the sort, Crown prosecutor Sam McMullan said during his closing address. 

“The CCTV doesn’t lie,” McMullan said as he slowly took the jury through a frame-by-frame analysis of the footage. “It shows what it shows.” 

Police at the scene of Kevin Hay's death on Ocean View Rd, Hillcrest, in 2022. Photo / Ben LeahyPolice at the scene of Kevin Hay's death on Ocean View Rd, Hillcrest, in 2022. Photo / Ben Leahy 

Greene’s real intention, the prosecutor suggested, wasn’t to defend his friend but to “teach [Hay] a lesson” so Hay wouldn’t come back around to harass them again. Had his intentions been otherwise, he argued, Greene would have called an ambulance or stopped Couper from attacking once the threat had subsided. 

“Was he really defending himself or was he just engaging in gratuitous violence?” McMullan asked before answering his own question. “I suggest it was the latter.” 

While Hay was “to some degree an expert MMA fighter”, McMullan said, Greene was “prone to exaggeration” when he called him “the most violent person in New Zealand”. He suggested Hay’s reputation shouldn’t play a large part in the jury’s CCTV analysis. 

The defence couldn’t have disagreed more, noting that Hay’s fighting skills - paired with his volatility and exacerbated by alcohol and drugs - made him appear a “monster” to those inside the house that night. Hay had consumed a 40oz (1.18 litre) bottle of bourbon that day on top of methamphetamine and his medication for anxiety, said Julie-Anne Kincaide, KC, who represented Greene. 

She described Hay as someone who had “spent nearly 15 years threatening people” - not a reference to his fighting career but his arrest record dating back to 2005. She asked jurors to consider his partner’s “genuine, terrified voice” in a March 2020 call to 111 that had been played for them earlier in the trial. 

“He needs to get Tasered as soon as you see him,” she advised police, according to a transcript read aloud to jurors. “He’s big and he’s strong and he’s capable ... If he captures someone’s arm he can break it.” 

Kevin Hay died on August 16 after police were called to Ocean View Rd, North Shore.Kevin Hay died on August 16 after police were called to Ocean View Rd, North Shore. 

The woman suggested seven or eight office officers arrive to get Hay under control before he could be sedated. His medication did not absorb when he’d been drinking, she said. 

“He’s going to come across as a nasty, angry man,” the woman also advised. “He’s a big boy too.” 

In a statement to police, the woman said she thought she was going to die at Hays’ hands. She later changed tack on the claims - both to police at the time, refusing to co-operate with the prosecution, and on the witness stand. She testified that she had made them up in a desperate attempt to get Hay help for his mental health. The defence, however, insisted she was lying now to protect her partner’s memory. 

Kincaide’s closing address was temporarily interrupted after Greene started sobbing in the dock. It was an unexpected reaction, she said of her client, apologising to the judge after the jury filed out for a short break. 

“Everyone has the right not to be assaulted - especially if they are sitting in a house,” she told jurors, reminding them that the law required them to imagine what was going through her client’s mind at the time - amid a kerfuffle he didn’t start and with “literally only seconds to think”. 

“It’s not necessarily what you would have done in that situation or what should have been done with the beautiful gift of hindsight. The vision of hindsight is always 20/20.” 

Her client, she said, thought he heard his friend struggling for breath. He thought if he showed Hay the knives he might stop, but it had “no effect at all”, she said. 

Jurors appeared to agree with Kincade, but Couper’s self-defence claim against both Hay and the police constable was a step too far. His lawyer had urged jurors not to believe the officer - suggesting he was either mistaken about what had occurred when he said he was punched and eye-gouged or he was outright lying. 

Couper, however, was acquitted on one other count of aggravated assault on a police officer, for having allegedly slammed the door in a detective’s face moments before the attack on the constable. The detective testified to having jumped in the doorway when it looked like it was about to be shut by the defendant. 

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand. 

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