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Men found not guilty of murder

TWO BEST mates accused of killing a hitch-hiker and dumping his body in the forest have been found not guilty of charges relating to murder.

But John Patrick Peterson and his friend Seamus Matthew Smith admitted killing 62-year-old Stephen Ward, and were found guilty of lesser charges. The jury of six women and six men returned its verdict about 2.50pm after about three hours deliberation, and found while Peterson did not murder Mr Ward, he was guilty of manslaughter.

They found Smith was not guilty of accessory to murder, but guilty of accessory to manslaughter.

During the trial spanning almost two weeks, the Supreme court heard the two men picked up Mr Ward outside the Matilda Service Station at Curra, on August 4, 2008, before taking him to a truck stop on the Bruce Highway.

After drinking all day, Peterson was heavily intoxicated and flew into a rage after Mr Ward allegedly made a homosexual advance towards him.

Peterson, 36, told the court he had "snapped" and beat the man 20 to 30 times around the head before he and Smith drove away.

However, they only drove a short distance before turning around and picking up Mr Ward, who was covered in blood.

The defendants gave evidence that Mr Ward was moaning or gurgling when they put him in the back of the ute and drove him into the Bauple State Forest.

Mr Ward's badly decomposed body was found in the same ditch where he had been left by the men, in September 2008.

During cross-examination earlier this week, psychiatrist Dr Kenneth Arthur, said it was likely that Peterson was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after being sexually abused as a teen, which may have influenced his reaction to the alleged gay pass.

He also was a chronic alcohol and drug-user, which may have impaired his judgement.

Smith grinned as the jury handed down its verdict for his friend Peterson, and again for his own verdict. However, Peterson remained emotionless throughout the proceedings.

The sentence is yet to be handed down.

Accused may soon hear jury's verdict

TWO MEN accused of being involved in the death of a 62-year-old hitchhiker may hear the jury's verdict today, after a trial spanning almost two weeks.

The Supreme Court trial of John Patrick Peterson and Seamus Matthew Smith started after both men were allegedly involved in the murder of Stephen John Ward.

The itinerant man was last seen leaving the Matilda Service Station at Curra on August 4, 2008, and his badly decomposed body was found by a trail-bike rider on Deveron Rd in the Bauple State Forest, in September that year.

Prosecutor Ben Power told the court Peterson was angry after Mr Ward made a homosexual pass at him, and admitted to hitting the victim between 20 and 30 times.

The court heard Peterson and Smith admitted to leaving the scene and returning later to move Mr Ward, although it was not clear whether he was still alive.

In his closing statement, Prosecutor Ben Power said it was clear Peterson's actions after the initial altercation on the highway meant that he intended Mr Ward to die.

"There is no doubt that Mr Ward was still alive - unconscious and helpless, but alive - when he was dumped in the bush," Mr Power said.

"Peterson was not content to leave him by the side of the highway where he might have got help.

"He put him, a badly-injured man, into the tray of a ute and drove him for up to 30 minutes over rough terrain into the forest.

"That intent shows Peterson's determination that Mr Ward would die."

Peterson pleaded not guilty to murder, while his co-accused Seamus Matthew Smith pleaded not guilty to accessory to murder.

But both men have admitted lesser charges.

The judge began her summary yesterday and it will continue today before the jury is sent to consider its verdict.

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