Jodie Shannon Hughes is on trial in the High Court at New Plymouth for the murder of Taranaki farm worker Jacob Ramsay. Photo / Tara Shaskey
Whether a woman was the mastermind of the grisly murder of a farm worker or an innocent bystander unwittingly pulled into a violent plan devised by a group of men will soon be determined.
Jodie Shannon Hughes, 31, has been in the High Court at New Plymouth defending charges of murder and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in a trial that began on August 14.
The mother-of-two was charged alongside William Candy, her partner, and Ethan Webster over the death of Jacob Mills Ramsay on July 29 last year.
Candy and Webster have admitted killing the Taranaki father-of-three and were sentenced to life imprisonment in March.
After eight days of evidence, Crown prosecutor Cherie Clarke and defence lawyer Tiffany Cooper, KC, made their closing addresses to the jury on Thursday.
Justice Matthew Palmer will sum up the case tomorrow morning and the jury will then begin its deliberations.
The jury has heard Ramsay was killed over money he owed. In addition to debts he had with Candy and Webster, he had been accused of stealing petrol and tools from the Ōaonui, South Taranaki, dairy farm at which they all worked and lived in separate farmhouses.
On the day of his death, Candy gave him a beating at the Ōakura cemetery before forcing him into Hughes’ vehicle and taking him back to the Kina Rd farm.
When they arrived on the tanker track, Candy continued the attack and Webster also delivered a number of blows and stomps to Ramsay’s head.
Candy then chained Ramsay to the back of a car by his ankle and he and Webster dragged him for almost one kilometre along a gravel track.
His body was dumped into a rubbish pit at the farm and he was found dead two days later by his employer.
Ramsay suffered more than 30 blunt-force trauma injuries to his head, neck, chest and limbs, as well as lacerations to his scalp, multiple fractures and brain bleeds.
At the outset of the trial, Hughes pleaded guilty to kidnapping Ramsay and the burglary of his home but not guilty to wounding him with intent to cause grievous bodily harm (GBH) and to murder.
The Crown has said that while she did not physically harm him, she was “very much” involved in Candy’s violence towards him, making her a party to the GBH and murder.
In her closing, Clarke said Hughes was “extremely angry”.
Not only was she fuming at Candy for not doing anything to recoup the $250 Ramsay owed them for the methamphetamine the three of them smoked, but more particularly with Ramsay for not paying up.
Taking matters into her own hands, Hughes broke into Ramsay’s house and stole two of his TVs.
But she continued to implore Candy to help recoup the debt, Clarke submitted.
When Hughes and Candy had tracked Ramsay to a cemetery in Ōakura, Hughes was “excited”.
She had amped Candy up and was happy he was finally going to sort Ramsay out, Clarke suggested.
“[Hughes] had finally managed to make Mr Candy angry by convincing him the deceased was about to do a runner.”
Clarke suggested that on the evidence the jury had heard throughout the trial, it had been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Hughes incited the initial attack.
“The conduct of the defendant throughout that day, right from early morning, she caused all of this to happen, she wound Mr Candy up and she got Mr Candy to be her weapon against the deceased.”
On the attack at the tanker track, Clarke told the jury Hughes had not only incited it but had also assisted and encouraged Candy and Webster.
She reminded the jury of one witness’ evidence detailing how Hughes had stopped him from trying to intervene, and another witness who had heard a female’s voice yell “kill him”.
“She knew that their actions were likely to cause Mr Ramsay’s death and she too consciously appreciated the risk to Mr Ramsay’s life.
“The Crown says it’s not only that she knew it, but she intended it and she was very much a party to their offending.”
But the defence has argued Hughes had no idea the beating meted out by the men would progress to the deadly level that it did.
Hughes had only wanted Candy to confront Ramsay about the money and not to hurt him, Cooper said.
In her closing, she said she wasn’t going to pretend Hughes was an angel, and said her client had bared herself to the jury “warts and all”, referring to her admissions about drug use, lying to the police and her sometimes abrasive manner.
“But that doesn’t make her guilty of being party to the wounding or the murder.”
Cooper asked the jury to consider who truly had a motive to lie.
She painted a picture of a plan hatched by four men, including Candy and Webster, to deal to Ramsay over the money owed and alleged thefts, one to which Hughes was not privy.
“There is no evidence that she was a part of that plan.”
Cooper questioned the credibility of the two other men present at the tanker track attack, who currently have interim name suppression and gave evidence.
“They were, members of the jury, in the thick of it.”
That they weren’t charged, was a “mystery”, she suggested.
Tara Shaskey joined NZME in 2022 as an Open Justice news director and journalist based in Taranaki. She has been a reporter since 2014 and previously worked at Stuff covering crime and justice, arts and entertainment, and Māori issues.