He bashed a squatter to death, now he will stay in jail

A MAN who bashed a Coffs Harbour squatter to death with a mattock handle over a dispute about marijuana has lost an appeal to have his 24-year sentence overturned.

James Kevin Moore struck Dennis Burns, 47, in the head with the wooden weapon in 2012, leading to his death two days later in hospital.

Moore's mother Michelle Moore and her partner, Brendan Price, were convicted of murder in separate trials.

The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal heard the fight began after Mr Burns asked Moore to buy him "a few ounces" of marijuana from a local dealer and Moore said he was adding $40 to the price so he could get his soon-to-be-born son circumcised.

Mr Burns complained about the previous bags being underweight and objected to paying extra when Moore dropped the drugs to the abandoned house on Collingwood St where Mr Burns had been squatting.

Mr Burns, who was drinking, sent a series of angry text messages to Moore as the day progressed, culminating in a phone call in which he made distasteful comments about Moore's girlfriend.

Moore sent him a message at about 3pm, warning him: "One more bad call or text c***, this is your warning, pull up".

Mr Burns responded in kind with a message saying: "F*** you, I'm waiting".

Moore sent his mother a text message saying Mr Burns was "still going on with it", followed by another about 30 seconds later saying, "I want to go kick his teeth in".

His mother and her partner arrived at Moore's house about 4pm and the trio drove to Mr Burns's squat.

Moore first found a mattock, removed its head and took the handle.

His mother brought a hammer and a long cardboard tube. Price grabbed a fishing rod.

The court heard Moore had been trying to calm his mother, warning her Mr Burns was a "knife man" and drunk.

Mr Burns came out of his home armed with two knives when they arrived.

Moore's mother hit Mr Burns on the head with the hammer in the ensuing fight, causing a cut.

But the fatal blow, which caused a larger cut and fractures to the man's skull, were consistent with being struck with a mattock handle.

Moore appealed his conviction and, failing that, the 24-year sentence he was handed.

The decision split the bench, with Justices John Basten and Robert Hulme dismissing the appeal as baseless.

However, Justice Christine Adamson believed the sentencing judge had used poor wording to direct jurors how to make their decision - phrasing that could have confused them into thinking the onus of proof lay with the defence rather than the prosecution.

The sentencing judge asked jurors if there was a "reasonable possibility" Moore believed he was acting in self-defence, rather than the accepted "reasonable doubt" notion.

"In the present case, since the charge was murder, the Crown was obliged to prove that the applicant's act that killed the deceased was not carried out in self-defence," Justice Adamson said.

"The Crown must prove that matter beyond reasonable doubt. The orthodox direction to the jury is in those terms; the words 'beyond reasonable doubt' are not explained further."

She believed Moore deserved a retrial but, as a minority decision, her ruling was not enforced.

Moore will be eligible for parole on October 31, 2030, having served 18 years and six months behind bars.

Michele Moore is serving a 22-year prison term with no parole for 15 years.

Brendan Price was sentenced to 18 years in jail and will be eligible for parole in 2024. -ARM NEWSDESK

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