MURDER TRIAL: What happened in minutes before victim died?

ALL that lies between a murder or manslaughter verdict in the murder trial of Coffs Harbour man Donald Neil Gordon is what happened in a 30-40 minute time period on a night in November more than two years ago.

This was the crux of what was in heard in the Grafton courthouse today as a long-anticipated Supreme Court trial, presided over by judge Justice Stephen Campbell, commenced with a jury of 12 and a well-attended gallery.

Gordon is accused of the murder of his friend Danial Cotter near the entrance of Collum Collum station, west of Baryulgil.

Cotter's body was found lying in a ditch at the entrance to the cattle station on the morning of Thursday, November 7, 2013, having died of significant head injuries including multiple skull and facial fractures.

In his opening address yesterday, the crown told the court that the trial was not a case of whether the fatal injuries were caused by Gordon's actions, but how they occurred.

The crown said they would argue that the accused inflicted Cotter's injuries using a 21kg rock found stained with blood, next to the body at the crime scene.

This is expected to be disputed by public defender Jason Watts who, in speaking for the defence, said in his own opening statement that he would argue the victim's death was caused by Gordon running him over with his vehicle.

"In this case there is not much dispute about much of that basic evidence, about the facts ... what occurred that day in the lead-up to the evening," Mr Watts said.

"The context in which this is occurring is what we refer to as a circumstantial evidence case. What will be open is we only have the partial drunken recollections from the accused; we have to draw inferences or conclusions from the state of the other evidence at the crime scene as to what actually happened and what was the result."

The court heard Gordon and Cotter had both been drinking on the evening of November 6 and joined up around dusk, drinking into the night with two other men at the Collum Collum property.

It is alleged Gordon and the victim argued at times during the night and shaped up to fight on a couple of occasions, with the crown referring to a statement in which Gordon called the deceased a "white c***".

At some point in the night, one of the men saw Gordon and the victim off from the house gate, and despite being heavily intoxicated they drove off with Gordon in the driver's seat.

The crown said that 30 or 40 minutes later, Gordon came back to the homestead "in a frantic mood" saying he had hurt his friend.

The defence said Gordon remembered driving to the property's outer gate, and that he ran over the deceased and "just left him".

The crown indicated it would dispute this version of events by the presence of the victim's blood.

The trial will continue in the Grafton courthouse from 10am on Thursday.