A loner who was beaten and strangled to death in his Newton Poppleford caravan survived for at least half an hour after the attack, a court has heard.
A post mortem found Geoffrey Pearce, 47, died from serious head injuries and being strangled, when murder-accused Lewis Finch, aged 31, of Briseham Close, Brixham, battered at him least twice over the head then garroted him with a plastic cable tie.
The court heard that Mr Pearce was dead before Finch set fire to the scrapyard caravan with the man’s body still inside.
Finch is on trial for murder at Exeter Crown Court after killing 47-year-old Geoffrey Pearce in the early hours of January 9, 2020, believing he was a child abuser.
He has admitting killing Mr Pearce, but denies murder.
Dr Amanda Jeffery, Home Office registered forensic pathologist, told the jury the blows to the head inflicted by Finch were sufficient to cause Mr Pearce to die and the ligature around his neck ‘contributed or hastened his death’.
She said proteins found in the dead man’s brain during the post mortem confirmed Mr Pearce remained alive for at least 30 minutes after the first blow to the head.
She said it was possible Mr Pearce could have been conscious between the strikes.
Dr Jeffrey said Mr Pearce’s post mortem showed at least two blunt hits to the head, which caused a fractured skull, internal bleeding, brain swell, and were sufficient to cause death.
The pathologist said bruising identified on Mr Pearce’s brain indicated a ‘blunt force trauma’ resulting in loss of consciousness.
She said a thin piece of black plastic – resembling a cable tie – approximately one centimetre wide and eight centimetres long, was attached to side of Mr Pearce’s neck and fell from his body during the autopsy examination.
Dr Jeffrey told the court: “The head injuries alone could account for the death. The ligature would have undoubtedly contributed or hastened his death.”
Mr Pearce’s fire-charred body still carried the marks of where the plastic cable tie had been around his neck. A band of skin on Mr Pearce’s neck was ‘less burnt’ the jury was told.
“It suggests that something has been up against that area, protecting it from the effects of the fire,” said Dr Jeffery.
The pathologist said the lack of soot or heat damage found in Mr Pearce’s lungs, mouth or airways suggested he had stopped breathing before Finch set fire to the victim’s caravan home.
She said a toxicology report showed Mr Pearce had amphetamine in his blood but no alcohol or other substances.
The defendant said he killed Mr Pearce in self-defence after losing control.
Mr Sean Brunton, QC, prosecuting, told the court Finch was ‘sufficiently in control’ to set fire to the caravan to hide the evidence, and to make a phone call to his sister, Ronnie Smith, to ask for a lift immediately after killing Mr Pearce.
She heard Mr Pearce begging for help in the background and Finch say ‘he’s not dead yet but he’s going to be’.
The court heard Finch had known the victim as his childhood babysitter and claimed he was a child abuser.
The jury was told Finch had seen Mr Pearce sometime earlier in the day, and warned him not to talk to him or he would kill him.
His victim ignored the threat and tried to approach him.
The court heard Finch took a taxi to Mr Pearce’s Newton Poppleford scrapyard home in the early hours of January 9.
He and the victim took drugs together, the defendant ‘passed out’ and woke to hear or see Mr Pearce masturbating.
The jury heard Finch said he ‘lost control’ when Mr Pearce began laughing at him.
He battered Mr Pearce over the head with what was thought to be a clawhammer, fracturing his skull and eye socket, then strangled him with a thick piece of plastic cable tie, fracturing the cartilage in the victim’s larynx.
He set fire to Mr Pearce’s caravan and walked eight miles across fields to Exmouth, to a friend’s home.
They smoked crack cocaine together then shared a McDonald’s breakfast before police came to arrest Finch.
Finch, who was ‘calm’ and heard joking and chatting with officers after his arrest, told police ‘I’ve done you a favour, I’ve killed a paedophile’.
The trial continues.
Please consider helping EastDevonNews.co.uk give you more community news, views and coverage. Click the button below to make a contribution or read more about our work here.