Robbie Charles was 32.
Robbie Charles was 32.

He killed his mate, but court finds this was no murder

AFTER three trials, Paul Gathercole has been found not guilty of murdering his friend Robbie Charles.

But the woman who tried saving Mr Charles the night he died says she's still waiting for a sign of Gathercole's remorse.

Mr Charles, 32, died after Gathercole stabbed him on February 1, 2014.

There was no dispute Gathercole, 43, killed the former Coffs Harbour man.

And on Monday, he was found guilty of manslaughter.

The two men and Mr Charles's girlfriend Vanessa Heath had spent the summer afternoon drinking at a darts club function, then a life saving club.

Witnesses at the latest trial described no hostility between the two men.

But later that February night, an argument over Mr Charles's dog erupted at the Mermaid Beach unit the men shared.

Gathercole was sentenced to nine years, six months jail but can apply for parole in 11 months.

"He's never looked at me once. I don't see the remorse," Ms Heath said after Gathercole was sentenced on Monday.

"I think he feels bad that he's in the position he's in, because now he has to serve time."

The role of alcohol in triggering Gathercole's rage that night was discussed at the trial.

"He drank a lot. I know that he could handle his alcohol," Ms Heath said. "I don't think that was a contributing feature."

Ms Heath said Mr Charles was an only child - and was very close to his father, Bob.

"I would not say Paul Gathercole was his best friend. That was hard to hear. His father was his best friend."

It can now be reported this was Gathercole's third trial over Mr Charles's death.

Three times he offered to plead guilty to manslaughter.

Three times the Crown pursued a murder charge.

At his first trial in 2015 the jury could not reach a verdict.

At Gathercole's second trial, in March last year, he was convicted of murder.

Last December, the Court of Appeal overturned the murder conviction.

A retrial was ordered, and began on November 27.

Defence counsel Robert East said Gathercole had no intent to kill or do grievous bodily harm to Mr Charles.

As the jury delivered its not guilty verdict on Monday afternoon, Gathercole showed little emotion, leaning back briefly in apparent relief.

Justice Peter Davis immediately began sentencing for manslaughter.

"The evils of alcohol" had influenced Gathercole, but drunkenness was no mitigating factor, Crown prosecutor Michael Lehane said.

But after a "catastrophic" outburst of rage, Gathercole did at least try to help his mate, the prosecutor said.

The Crown sought a head sentence of nine to 12 years' prison.

Mr East said Gathercole had "deep remorse" and never blamed Mr Charles for what happened that night.

Justice Davis said Gathercole's remorse was "obviously very significant and very genuine".

"But having said that, Mr Charles has lost his life, Mr Bob Charles has lost his son, and Vanessa Heath has lost her partner," the judge added.

Gathercole was sentence to 9 years, 6 months jail.

He will be eligible for parole on November 1 next year.

Gathercole had spent 1402 days in custody - every day since Mr Charles died.

- NewsRegional