31 March, 2010

"I'm going to be your nightmare" - Part III

Time of Death
John’s defence called evidence to refute the Crown’s conclusion that Frances died late on the 29th March. The post-mortem was conducted by Dr Botterill, who saw the body in situ at the Wakehurst Parkway and observed large wounds and other smaller injuries caused by animals. His later examination revealed damage to the right eye which could have been an petechial haemorrhage, caused by asphyxiation or being choked/suffocated, but could also have been caused by animals.

He saw a bruise on her neck which he believed was caused within an hour of her death, and was consistent with a broad ligature or strap being applied. He identified a fingernail scratch on her cheek, and another bruise on the left side of her neck that matched those seen when someone is defending themselves from strangulation. There were also defensive injuries on her fingers.

He concluded the cause of death was consistent with strangulation. Based on decomposition he considered the most likely dates of death were 29-30 March. He agreed in cross-examination that determining time of death was notoriously difficult, but believed it was unlikely she was still alive on 31 March, and “extraordinarily unlikely” that she was alive on 1 April. The level of decomposition suggested she had been dead for 4-5 days, and given she was seen alive 5 days before (28 March) he concluded the date of death was the 29th. Dr Botterill was unshaken in his evidence.

The defence called Dr Ellis, a forensic pathologist, who based his opinion on photographs, Dr Botterill’s report and weather reports from that period. He believed that death more likely took place on 31 March, and that any earlier was very unlikely. He could not say what the cause of death was, but disagreed that the right eye injury was indicative of strangulation. However, he was not able to rule out strangulation or suffocation. Under cross-examination he conceded death could in fact have occurred on the 29th. He also had to concede that Dr Botterill was in a far better position to make any conclusions, having been at the scene, rather than relying on photos.

There was also entomological evidence about the lack of significant fly larvae, or maggots, on the body. This suggested the body had not been there more than 40 hours, i.e. since 31 March. Dr Ellis in particular relied on this factor when coming to his conclusion. However much of this evidence was based on optimal breeding conditions, which according to weather reports, were not present during the time period.

Two people gave evidence of possible sightings of Frances after she disappeared. Marie Wiltshire said that about 4:15pm on Friday 31st she saw a girl in a car travelling north on the freeway near Berowra who appeared to be gagged and distressed, looking out the rear window. She said the girl was in tears, and had brown eyes and curly shoulder-length dark brown hair. She rang ‘000’ almost immediately. On 2 April her husband told her about a body being found on the Wakehurst Parkway at Narrabeen, so she went to Gosford Police station where she was shown photos of Frances. Marie said she was “one hundred percent sure” it was her. The car was an older model “faded red” Ford.

However under cross-examination several difficulties in her evidence were exposed, namely that she was travelling in the opposite direction, and the person she was in the back of a car parked at the side of the road, looking through the rear windscreen. Yet she was able to describe her in great detail, including the colour of her eyes, and the fact she had tears in them. Also, at the police station she was only shows photos of Frances Tizzone, and no-one else of similar appearance.

Interestingly, off-duty policeman John Gardiner was at his home in Umina at about 9:30pm on Friday 31st listening to the radio, when he heard a female voice screaming out from some distance away. He also heard a male voice arguing with her, and both voices were becoming louder. He went to his window and saw a red Ford Falcon sedan approaching a roundabout outside, and the male driver was swearing at the female passenger. The female was crying and looked distressed, calling out to him to let her go. The Falcon had a “patchy faded red roof”. He said the female looked about 20-years-old with wavy shoulder length hair, wearing a dark top, and looked to be Mediterranean or Middle Eastern in appearance, with an Australian accent. He said the next morning he saw a picture of Frances Tizzone in the paper and it was the same person.

Again, this evidence was challenged given it was a fleeting view of a moving vehicle at night. (If it was not Frances, it is nonetheless worrying that some poor girl was clearly in some trouble in a red Falcon that night - hopefully she didn’t end up like Frances.)

Fibres from the carpet in John's Honda CRX were matched to fibres found on Frances's boots when her body was found. The Crime Scene Examiner sampled several at the scene (as well as photographing and preserving the boots), then took samples at all the sites at the Uni where Frances had been on the 29th, and of the Tizzone‘s home and car. They were all sent to an analyst, who also took samples from the carpet in John’s Honda CRX and Toyota Corolla. Microscopic examination led him to conclude that the fibres matched. He also concluded that the fibres on the shoes did not match any from the Uni, or the Tizzone’s home or car. He conducted further test that showed the fibres from the carpet in the Honda were easily transferred to various shoes, and were easily lost when the shoes were worn on a hard surface.

The particular carpet was manufactured in Japan exclusively for use in 1990 and 1991 Honda CRX vehicles. Only 296 of these cars were distributed in Australia, and 291 owners were contacted and stated that they were not in the Frenchs Forest area between 29 March and 2 April 1995.

The analyst was extensively cross-examined but did not alter his conclusions. These were also supported by Dr James Robertson, the Director of Forensic Services of the Australian Federal Police. Dr Robertson also stated that in his experience, he found fibres did not stay on the soles of shoes for long, five to ten paces at the most. The defence suggested fibres might be caught in striations, or roughened parts of the soles, however after examination of the boots he could not find “any convincing example” of such fibres being caught.

The Manager of the Testing Services Division of the Melbourne Institute of Textiles gave evidence that apart from the Honda’s carpet, there were virtually no polyester carpets used in Australia in the commercial or residential field. John Cauce, a chartered textile technologist, stated that the carpet in the Honda CRX 1990/91 models never appeared in any carpet installed in any Australian-made car, such carpet has never been manufactured in Australia, and that it was a very unusual blend of fibres.

The defence called Dr Ross Griffith, a textile technologist, to dispute this evidence. He said the Crown’s evidence was questionable on a number of highly technical reasons. However under cross-examination he was forced to back down somewhat from his position, and agreed that Dr Robertson was a leading world expert in relation to fibre transference. The suggestion that the fibres might have stuck there longer due to some unknown sticky substance was unconvincing. Ultimately he said “I have not said that this is open and shut and there was not transfer from this carpet to that boot”.

The Crown submitted that there was no question that the fibres came from the Honda, and that meant Frances had been in his car, after which she almost certainly never walked again.

After a long trial in 1998 John Serratore was convicted for murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 13 years. He immediately appealed his conviction on numerous grounds.

In particular, he relied on the fact that the Trial Judge had directed the jury that, because the Crown case was a circumstantial one, they had to be satisfied of four elements beyond reasonable doubt, before they could convict:
(a) that on the evening of 28 March 1995, John and Frances arranged to meet the following evening; and
(b) that John left work between 3:45 and 4pm on 29 March 1995; and
(c) that Frances was killed on 29 March 1995; and
(d) that Frances was in John’s Honda CRX shortly before her death.

The Appeal Court felt that on the evidence, the jury could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of elements (a) and (b). On element (a) the Court found it “incredible” that Frances’ mother did not tell police (or her husband) about the proposed meeting between the two, and “incomprehensible” that she didn’t ask John about it when she phoned him later that evening. One Appeal Judge stated “Her explanations for not doing so I find totally unconvincing” and coupled with Antonella’s (Frances' sister) sketchy evidence about the phone call from John, the Court said the jury could not be satisfied that the family knew about any arranged meeting.

On element (b) the Court said that given the conflicting evidence about which day John left work early, they could also not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the 29th was the definitely the day.

Therefore to convict John, the jury must have ‘misunderstood’ the judge’s directions, leading to a miscarriage of justice, requiring the Court to quash the conviction, even if on the remaining evidence it was still reasonable for the jury to convict. (Another wonderful legal technicality, arising out of the Hilton Bomber case.)

Notably, one Appeal Judge rejected John’s appeal, stating that on the facts the jury was entitled to enter a guilty verdict. His Honour pointed to the answers John gave Constable Hall when first questioned about Frances, saying he got home that day “about 5pm”, suggesting he had infact left work early, plus the call from his friend Luke at 6:30, who was told he wasn’t home. His Honour also felt Mrs Tizzone’s reluctance to mention the arranged meeting, particularly to her husband, was because she had not yet told him the fact that the couple were seeing each other again. The Judge did not find Antonella’s inconsistencies particularly relevant, in that it wasn’t overly important who Frances was talking to, rather it was the fact that she was arranging a meeting for the next evening, and sounded stressed. Coupled with the evidence of the fibres from the car, this made a compelling case. However, this Judge was in the minority.

The saving grace for the Crown was the fact that the majority of the Appeal Court decided that the Trial Judge’s direction to the jury (that they must be satisfied about the four elements listed above) was actually wrong in itself. So they ordered a new trial, saying all the evidence could be used again, but this time the jury should be told that they need to be unanimous on the basic elements of guilt, but not necessarily on the bases for coming to that conclusion. (Again, very technical - essentially they need to be satisfied that John caused Frances’ death, but not specifically on the four points listed by the first Judge.)

So in 1999 John’s appeal was allowed, his conviction was quashed, and a new trial was ordered. But before a new trial could start, the Crown appealed that decision to the High Court of Australia. The Crown wanted the jury’s original conviction to stand, and relied heavily on the arguments of the minority Judge above. The High Court refused the Crown’s appeal, and a new trial began in the NSW Supreme Court in 2000.

The new jury heard the same evidence. This time, they were told they had to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that:
(a) Frances Tizzone was dead; and
(b) her death was caused by a deliberate act, done with intent to kill (or cause really serious injury); and
(c) John Serratore was responsible for her death in one of the following ways:
(i) he did it himself; or
(ii) he was present, helping someone else do it; or
(iii) he arranged someone else to do it.

The jury came back with a guilty verdict.

At sentence, the Judge found that the killing was premeditated, and John had shown no remorse. “This was a brutal and awful crime. A young woman, of considerable promise, was lured into a trap and slain … Although on one view, a crime of passion, it was smouldering, vindictive passion, which had more to do with revenge than love.”

He was re-sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 14 years (increased by one year from the last time). John again appealed his conviction and sentence, but this time it was rejected by all three judges. He then appealed to the High Court, but he was rejected once more.

John Serratore will be eligible for release on 17 May 2012.

30 March, 2010

"I'm going to be your nightmare" - Part II

Back Together
It appears the John and Frances got back together not long after the AVO was made, although its not clear exactly when. Frances told her friend Natasha Skiadopoulos she was seeing John again, and asked her to act as a go-between so they could made plans. She saw her doctor for the morning-after pill in December. Later she told Natasha that John was still grabbing her and hitting her, and that she wanted to break up with him but was finding it hard to do so.

They went together to Monica Kollar's 21st in late January, but the next week she told Monica she was confused - sometimes John was angry with her, and sometimes he was OK. Three weeks later they went to Bondi with Monica and her fiancé, but John was angry, demanding Frances go home with him in his car. However three weeks after that the four all went to Manly together, and the couple were affectionate with each other. This was about three weeks before Frances died.

In February Frances told Patricia she was giving the relationship another go, but did not tell Santo. Patricia found cards from John under Frances's bed - a 21st birthday card (Frances turned 21 on January 9th) and a Valentine's Day card. Both were from John. Frances also gave John a Valentine's card which spoke of reigniting "our flame which was once burning quite strongly" and "it will take time for our love to become as strong as it was earlier". It concluded "I don't want any abuse like was previously experienced. I want the old Johnny, the one I had when we first met". The pair were seen cuddling and embracing at Natasha's 21st on 18th February, and two days later Frances again saw her doctor for the morning-after pill.

John's workmates said Frances would phone him about once a day, but these calls stopped about two weeks before she died. Around this time Frances told Patricia she was thinking of ending the relationship because she just could not forget all the things that had happened in the past.

Bassam Radwan and his girlfriend Zahia saw John waiting for Frances at Burwood station. He gave them a lift home, and drove past Frances's bus stop, saying "she mustn't be here or she must have gone home already. Later he told Bassam "Don't think I've forgotten, I am just thinking for the moment. I'm only just sleeping with her... Don't think I've forgotten about it, I'm still going to do it... If anyone says anything or asks you questions, just deny everything. Deny everything. If any police ask you anything, deny anything that happened". John denied these conversations ever took place.

Another friend of John's, Manolis Kasdaglis said that in January 1995 John told him "something about humiliating her and stuff, you know, embarrassing her and things like that". In cross-examination, it was put to John that he also told Manolis that he would get Frances back or make life hell for her. He replied "I think at that stage, on the spur of the moment, I was upset" and when asked if he said those things, he replied "not exactly in those words but I said I am embarrassed or something like that". He also said it was back in November 1994, at the time of the AVO.

At Jadranka Vulic's 21st on March 18 the couple seemed happy, cuddling and talking to one another, and were basically together the whole evening. But a week later Frances phoned Jadranka and said John was harassing her at Uni, and "he had hit her once repeatedly".

The arrangement to meet
Frances received a call from John on the evening of 28 March. Her 15-year-old sister Antonella, who shared a room with Frances, overheard her saying “I don’t want to meet you… or else what? why are you speaking to me this way… OK I‘ll meet you tomorrow afternoon after Uni. I will meet you at the station. I will bring the card but make sure you bring the bag“. Antonella did not know at that stage that Frances was seeing John again, but said she sounded “sort of scared“ like she used to when talking to John. She said she told her mother she “thought she was speaking to John”.

Antonella was cross-examined as to why she didn’t include much of this in her initial statement to police. In Santo’s statement he said that Antonella told him the next day that Frances had been arguing on the phone about meeting someone the next day after Uni, but she “didn’t take much notice because she didn’t think it was John on the other end of the phone”. She answered “not sure” to most of the cross-examination, which was regarded as “unimpressive”. It was also established that she was doing school work at the time, and had the TV on in the background.

Frances then told her mother Patricia that she and John had agreed to break up but remain friends, and that they were going to meet the following afternoon after Uni so they could return their things to each other. Frances said she wouldn’t drive to Uni, and would call home from Strathfield station once she was finished so that Santo could come and pick her up. She thought this would be around 6pm.

The next day Frances went to Uni with Rima. Towards the end of the day Rima offered her a lift home, but she said she was going to visit a sick relative. There was no evidence of any sick relative, but Frances had not told Rima she and John were seeing each other again, as Rima had made her dislike of John very clear. Frances left around 4:10pm to catch the bus to Strathfield station. When her parents had not heard from her by 8pm, they went to the police and told them of their fears, but nothing about Frances' arrangement to meet John.

Constable Hall rang John's home and told him "Frances Tizzone has not come home and her parents are worried about her, have you seen her? He said "no, I'm not allowed to see her, she took out an order".
"Where have you been this afternoon?"
"I came home from work and have been here all the time".
"What time did you come home from work?"
"About five p.m."
Constable Hall was cross-examined about this at trial, and maintained John definitely said 5pm. Her notes confirmed this.

At about 10pm Patricia rang John and said “are you sure you haven‘t seen or heard from Frances all day?”, and he said No. He said the last time he had seen her was in December, except for once at a party.

There were also major difficulties with Patricia’s evidence. She was cross-examined as to why she did not say anything to John about their proposed meeting - she replied that she wanted him to tell her himself. In evidence she said “well I asked him about three times if he had seen her or knew where she was and he told me he had nothing to do with her and hadn’t seen her since December and I knew that wasn’t true.. Why should I [ask him] if he wasn’t going to admit it to me. Why should I tell him that I knew.”

She was also cross-examined as to why she didn’t tell Constable Hall about the planned meeting, and her answers were “particularly unconvincing“. She said “well, if I had known what had happened to her, I would have… At the time I thought she had gone and met him and they’d lost track of time and then she would be home”.

She had also told police that she did not know how Frances was getting home, which seemed strange given the arrangement to pick her up at Strathfield station after she called. Patricia’s evidence was at odds with Santo’s statement - he said that Patricia told him she had rung Rima and been told she would be late, and be home around 7-7:30pm.

Police came to the Tizzone’s house later that night, and went to Macquarie Uni the next day to speak with her friends. Again no mention was made by the family of the arranged meeting. Later on the 30th police went to the Serratore house, but John wasn’t home. He was asked to contact police, and later that evening he took part in a recorded interview.

He made several statements that were later proved to be untrue. He said that since November 1994 he had only spoken to and seen Frances a few times. He said he had last seen her at Jadranka’s party two weeks before. He denied there had been any sexual relationship since the AVO. At trial he said his reason for lying was to avoid incriminating himself for breaching the AVO. He denied he had anything to do with Frances’ death and also denied most of the violence during their relationship. Police placed him under surveillance from March 30th.

Leaving work early
John said that on the 29th he left work at 4:50pm and went straight home, arriving at about 5:25pm, and did not go out again. He claimed he drove his Toyota Corolla that day and when he got home he parked it beside the Honda CRX. He had a shower and read the paper. His sister arrived home at about 5:45pm. He denied having telephoned Frances on the 28th and arranging to meet her.

His employer at John O’Donnell Customs Agency in East Botany said he had allowed John to leave early one day that week, at about 3:50-4pm, but could not remember which day. He recalled John coming to work upset on Friday 31st, saying his girlfriend had been kidnapped and the police thought he’d done it. John said he hadn’t spoken to Frances for a couple of days. He thought the police were following him. Mr O’Donnell sent him home that morning.

Another employee’s husband, Damien Bower, who was there to help with some furniture at the office, recalled that he went there around 3:15pm on Wednesday 29th March and saw John leave around 3:45-4pm. He was able to recall the specific day because he’d been to hospital (the pathology department at HMAS Penguin) earlier that day. He was seen by Dr Gray who took his blood, and specifically recalled Dr Gray was shaking. Dr Gray was later found slumped at his desk, having suffered a stroke, and died some weeks later.

Damien also remembered he and his wife Sally were annoyed that John left early that day, because that meant they could not leave early. He was vigorously cross-examined on the basis of conflicting medical records but did not vary his evidence.

Nurse Cavanagh, manager of the HMAS Penguin pathology department, was called to clarify whether Damien’s blood sample was taken on the 29th or the 30th, and also cross-examined extensively:
“Q: Either this sample was taken late on 29 March, namely 4 or 5 o’clock or thereabouts, then refrigerated in the hospital, is that right?
A: Yes, that’s true.
Q: Or, alternatively, and much more probably, the blood was drawn in pathology between 7:30 and 8:30am on 30 March. That’s right, is it not?
A: Yes, but you also have to take into account that that day was an abnormal day.
Q: Why are you insisting about the possibility or likelihood or whatever that this blood was drawn on 29 March? Have you spoken to police subsequently to giving your statement?
A: No, I’m not insisting that the blood was drawn on 29 March. I am saying that I do not know what day the blood was drawn because the person who took the blood did not write the date and time they took the blood. That is quite clear.
Q: So the overwhelming probability is that Mr Bower was at HMAS Penguin on 30 March, is that right?
A: Yes, he was.
Q: And the overwhelming probability is that he was not at HMAS Penguin on 29 March 1995, is it no?
A: Yes.
Q: And that he had two days leave from 28 March to 30 March?
A: Yes.
Q: And all the records indicate 30 March and 28 March, do they not?
A: That’s true.
Q: So why do you struggle with the proposition that the overwhelming probability from these records is that the blood was drawn in the Pathology Department on HMAS Penguin on 30 March 1995? What’s your problem with that proposition?
A: I don’t have a great problem with it except I do not have proof that it was drawn then.
Q: What more proof do you need? Every document you have seen refers to 28 March or 30 March. What more proof do you want?
A: I want the proof of someone having written on the form that they actually took the blood and what time and date they took it. Other than that we cannot say.
Q: I see, even though every piece of paper talks about 28 March and 30 March, you’re saying you need a document from somebody to say, ‘I drew blood from Mr Bower on 30 March at X time’, is that right?
A: Usually the collector would say, ‘Collected by so-and-so at 0800 on 30 March’.
Q: Presumably if the blood was drawn on 29 March, such a document would have been in existence, is that right?
A: Yes, they would have written it on the request form but not necessarily because people don’t conform to that requirement. That’s the problem. That’s the whole problem.”

Danielle Seidl, another employee, was asked what time John finished work that week, and said “no I am not a hundred percent sure but I know on the Wednesday that he and Damien was in the office, he (Damien) was quite ill and I remember him wanting his wife to come home early, and John [O’Donnell] let John Serratore go home early, but I can’t remember what time of the day it was”.

Luke Yatris, a friend of John’s, said he phoned him at home at about 6:30pm on the 29th but Mrs Serratore said he was not home. John and his mother both gave evidence that he was in fact home when Luke called, but he did not want to speak to Luke, so he told his mother to tell him he was not home.

John denied leaving work early on the 29th. He said the day he left early was actually Thursday 30th, after his sister telephoned and said the police wanted to speak to him. He left about 4pm. His sister Barbara and his parents generally supported his evidence. He maintained that he arrived home about 5:30pm on the Wednesday, and that he had seen his neighbours Sam Vitaliti and Vince Mazzotta in the street as he pulled in. Rather suspiciously, Vitaliti and Mazzotta seemed to have separate but virtually identical conversations with him. They also gave almost identical evidence that they had watched the start of the 5pm news on Channel 10 and had both come outside after about 10-15 minutes to watch their respective children play. The Judge found this to be a “remarkable coincidence” and thought is smacked of collusion.

To be continued...

25 March, 2010

"I'm going to be your nightmare" - Part I

John Serratore and Frances Tizzone grew up near each other in Croydon Park. They went to different high schools, but started going out together in Year 8 and 9. In Year 10 they broke up, and Frances went out with a boy named Joe Elia. John didn’t see her again until 1993, when Frances was studying science at Macquarie Univeristy. The started dating again, and in May Frances brought John home to meet her parents. The relationship, however, was a stormy one and became increasingly volatile. Frances found John to be jealous, obsessive and violent. The relationship began to sour, and they broke up in late 1994 when an restraining order (AVO) was taken out against him, but by early 1995 they were apparently back together again. Nonetheless Frances had mixed feelings about their reunion, and decided that she wanted to end the relationship for good.

On the evening of 28 March Frances spoke to John on the phone and agreed to meet him the next day on her way home, to give back some of each other's belongings, signalling the end of the relationship. She said she would phone home for a lift at about 6pm when she finished. The next day Frances went to university as normal, but ended up leaving early at about 4:20pm, telling a friend she was going to visit a sick relative. She never called home, and was not seen alive again.

Frances' partly decomposed body was found on 2 April 1995, in bushland near the Wakehurst Parkway in Frenchs Forrest. Her blue Sportsgirl bag with her university books and purse were found nearby. It was estimated she died late on 29th March. She was 21 years old.

22-year-old John was charged with Frances' murder. The Crown case was entirely circumstantial, and it was put to the jury on two alternates bases: that John either killed Frances himself; or he arranged for someone else to do it.

The Crown called evidence from friends and family of Frances. They spoke of occasions when Frances had told them that John was verbally abusing her, physically assaulting her, following her to Uni and sitting in her classes, always calling her on the phone, always wanting to know where she was. Needless to say John was not a student at Macquarie Uni and had no business being there.

The defence objected to this evidence on the grounds that it was hearsay, however the Crown argued that much of it was in fact direct evidence - classmates who saw John at Uni, witnessed the phone calls, saw the bruises and scratches on Frances' body, and saw her distressed and crying immediately after being with him.

Background evidence
Rima Aboud-Raad, a fellow student, often saw John in Frances' classes, and also saw him hit her and push her into a brick wall. She overheard a conversation between them where John said to Frances "You're coming home with me" and she replied "No, I'm not" after which John grabbed her hand and said "Yes, you are". Rima said John looked angry and was very forceful, and Frances turned to her and said she was going home with John. Rima said she looked unhappy.

Frances' mother Patricia Tizzone heard her daughter constantly arguing with John on the phone, and in June 1994 saw a bruise on her face. She said she had hit it against a door. Patricia also saw bruises on her arms, and fresh nail marks. Frances admitted they were made by John, and also told her about John coming to her classes at Uni, and also yelling at her male friends so that they did not talk to her anymore. In August 1994 Patricia went into her daughter's bedroom to find her crying. Frances said that John would often stand outside her window and watch her, and this time when they argued he had punched her through the flyscreen. Patricia saw that Frances had a red, cut lip, and the flyscreen was broken with a hole in it. Patricia also saw John grab Frances by the neck and shake her on another occasion.

In September Frances went to the theatre with her friend Michelle Kaltoum to see 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. After the show John was waiting for her outside, and they all went to Darling Harbour together. After a while Frances told Michelle she was going outside for a walk with John. 20 minutes later Frances returned, distressed and crying, and said that John had hit her a few times about the face, and head-butted her in the head, because he demanded she go home with him. In John's evidence he said that he had just "slapped her in a fight".

The defence also objected to this evidence, but the Crown argued that it showed the nature of the relationship between the two, and also showed a tendency on John's part to be obsessive and domineering, making it difficult for Frances to break up with him. There was also evidence that he falsely accused her of getting back together with her ex Joe Elia, humiliated her in front of her family by referring to an abortion, and threatened Frances and her family when they were at court in November 1994.

In the fight that led up to those court proceedings, Patricia saw John and Frances outside the front of their house arguing, and saw John hit her across the face. Patricia called her husband Santo and they all went out the front. Santo asked John what was going on, and he replied "You ask for answers about when she was pregnant and had the abortion." Of course, this was the first time Frances' parents had heard about any pregnancy or abortion.

John gave evidence about this event. He said that when Frances came out he confronted her about Joe Elia, and asked "Is there something going on? Are you seeing Joe?" He said she had a guilty look on her face, but she denied it, so he said "Don't lie to me, I just saw him." Frances said she was only speaking to Joe and wasn't seeing him but John slapped her in the face "because she liked to me and she was seeing her ex-boyfriend. I suppose I lost my temper". Then her father came out and started shouting, saying he was going to hit him, so John pushed him.

"I told Frances, 'C'mon, tell him. I'm getting my arse kicked in here and its not my fault. Tell him what you have been doing', and she just didn't say nothing, just standing there. We kept on arguing for a little bit longer, screaming at each other, and Frances said 'I was only speaking to him a few times. I never seen him'. When she said that, I don't know, I just told her father about how she was pregnant to me and she had an abortion and he seemed like it was a big shock at the time."

John said he went home and poked his finger through a photo of him and Frances. He agreed in cross-examination that he had accused her of having an affair solely on the basis that he had seen Joe driving his car in her street, and the area where she lived. He was clearly unable to see that the reason Frances' feelings towards him were cooling was due to his own behaviour, rather than the supposed attentions of a former boyfriend.

Later that day Frances and her family went to Burwood police and reported the incident. The next day Santo went to John's house and spoke to his father, Frank Serratore. While he was there John came out and said "the problem is your daughter, she goes off with somebody else, she's a slut, I can prove it to you... I have got some documents, I can prove it to you". He went inside and brought out a plastic bag and showed Santo pictures of Frances at her Year 12 formal, three years earlier. He repeated his comments about Frances having an abortion, and said he wanted to fight. Santo said "come on, throw the first punch, I'm going to kill you". After that John's sister came out and asked Santo to go home, which he did.

John confirmed most of this in evidence, and said he slapped Frances "for what she did to me". The next day Monica Kollar phoned John on Frances's behalf and asked why he had told Santo about the abortion. John replied that she deserved it because she did not stick up for him when he was copping all the blame. The Judge regarded this as "a somewhat unsatisfactory perception of what happened".

That evening John arrived at the Tizzone house and started bashing on the front door looking for Frances. She refused to come out, so he started yelling for Santo to come out and fight him, but Santo just told him to go home. They called the police and told them the whole story.

A Hit Man?
Bassam Redwan was a schoolmate of John's but they had drifted apart until about October 1994. John told him that he'd broken up with Frances and was having a hard time. He said it was her family's fault, and suggested to Bassam that he wanted him to "hurt a lady". He eventually said this was Patricia Tizzone, for “interfering with his relationship“. Bassam said he “wanted me to help him kill her … he wanted her to overdose on pills … to get her back for what she did to him”. John outlined plans to give himself an alibi.

Bassam gave the following evidence:
“A: At first he said 'Tomorrow morning Frances will be going to university, and on the way to university she’ll be dropping her mother off at work, and leaving to go to the university. Where she drops her mother off at work there’s a roundabout’ and he asked me, when she approaches the roundabout to hop in the car with her and drive somewhere down the road - he said she’ll get scared of me and do what I say because she’ll be scared of me and he said ’You make her scared and make sure she swallows the tablets and write out a [suicide] note.’
Q: You told him ’no way’, in other words, you weren’t going to do it?
A: Yes”
Bassam refused, but John kept trying to convince him, asking him “at least a hundred times“.
“A: He just kept on trying to convince me and I kept on trying to talk him out of it, trying to reason with him, tell him ‘I’m not going to do it’ and tell him ‘its not worth it’ and try and make him see.
Q: What happened then?
A: He just got more and more frustrated… and desperate, yeah”
John was saying "you have to help me, if you don't help me I won't get away with it". Bassam said he would tell Frances, Santo, the police, everybody, but that didn't seem to deter John. At one stage he said "my cousin knows some Greeks, hit men, or people from the Cross". Eventually he got angry and frustrated, and offered Bassam his car and around $3,000. Bassam again refused. At first he didn't think John was serious, but began to change his mind.

He went to John’s house the next morning “because I was concerned that he was going to go through with it, whether he was going to go anywhere, and I walked to his house, and my intentions were to stop him, to speak to his father, and his father was not home, and I seen John, I seen John warming his car up… I assumed he was going to do what he said. So I decided to walk down the street around the corner towards my house and also towards Frances’s house. I walked in that direction and within two minutes John came around the corner in his car, and he pulled up beside me when I was walking and he asked me ‘Are you going to help me?’ and I said ‘No’… and he said ‘OK, I’m going to do it myself.”

Bassam went to the Tizzone house and told Frances not to go to Uni that day, and told her and Patricia of John's plans. The Tizzone's phoned the police, and then Frances, her cousin and her mother all went together to the Uni. On arrival, Frances went to class. Patricia and her niece saw John on the campus, so they went to security who called the police. The police approached John and told him Frances did not want to see him and had gone home. They searched his car but found nothing of interest so they asked him to leave, which he did. Constable O'Connor told John there was no need to wreck his life over a woman, and said that he seemed emotional.

John denied ever asking Bassam to help him kill Frances or her mother, and said all they had talked about was John going to the Uni to ask Frances why she had gone with Joe Elia and why she had lied about it. At this time police obtained the AVO, which was valid for six months. As the Tizzone's were leaving court, John said to Frances "you're gone, you're gone... you're dead, its going to cost me money but you're dead". He said to Santo "I'm going to be your nightmare". John later said this was all "on the spur of the moment".

Later that day John went to Bassam's house and asked him if he'd spoken to Frances, and he said "yes, I told them". Bassam knew about the AVO, but John told him "you don't think this is going to stop me, I'll get her six months later". The Tizzone's house was then plagued by phone calls, up to 15 times a day, where the caller would hang up unless Frances answered the phone. These calls were traced to public phones mostly in the Botany area, where John worked.

To be continued...

20 March, 2010


At about 4:30am on 16 November 1997 local emergency services received a '000' call requesting an ambulance and also, somewhat unusually, a priest. Police were also dispatched and they arrived first, swiftly followed by the ambulance. At the scene they found Jeff Noyes dressed in only green & gold football shorts, spattered with blood.

Constable Lind spoke to Jeff, and fairly quickly came to the conclusion that he was suffering from some sort of delusion that had a touch of religious mania. Jeff told Cst. Lind that his mother had asked him to perform an exorcism upon her, and had needed to be killed. He said that police could not enter until after a priest had arrived.

Nonetheless police gained entry to the home and found the body of Shirley Noyes, Jeff's mother. She was lying on the floor with a small plaque of stained glass placed over her. The injuries she had received were bizarre to say the least, and again religious in nature, such as stigmata-like wounds to the hands and feet. The eventual cause of death was found to be from a severe battering to the head.

Jeff freely admitted that he had been the one to kill his mother. He stated that he needed to do so, as she was about to give birth to a demon-child, and had been in a relationship with the devil. He was wearing the green & gold shorts because they were symbolic of Australia - Jeff felt he had done a service to his country, and indeed the world.

Tragically, at one stage he seemed to briefly slip out of his delusional state and become conscious of what he had done, asking police if he could call his sister at Nepean Hospital so that "Mum could be put back together again".

Apparently in the weeks leading up to the killing Jeff's disturbed behaviour had been increasing, and there had been incidents of appalling conduct towards family members, especially his mother. His family described him as being delusional and aggressive, and said that this had begun to take on a religious dimension, when he started raving about the devil and cults. In his interview with police, Jeff claimed he could hear banging on his mother's window, and he believed this was because people were entering her bedroom and having sex with her. He believed she was gaining weight, and came to the conclusion that this was because she was pregnant, and would soon give birth to the devil's child.

Jeff had suffered from prior bouts of insanity, and at one stage had been admitted to Cumberland Hospital in 1996, as well as Bungarribee House in 1997. He had also been in a motorbike accident in 1993, which had resulted in a closed-head injury.

The question for the court was whether Jeff had a defence of mental illness. The psychiatrists who saw Jeff were in agreement that at the time of the offence he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, which led to psychosis, worsened by his use of speed and pot. The Judge concluded that at the time he killed his mother Jeff did not know what he was doing, or if he did, he did not know that it was the wrong thing to do.

Jeff Noyes was therefore found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness. He was ordered to be detained in strict custody in the Long Bay Prison Hospital, until determined fit for release.

As with all patients found not guilty on the grounds of mental illness, Jeff is now a 'forensic patient' under the supervision of the Mental Health Review Tribunal. The Tribunal reviews his case every six months, and then reports to the Minister of Health. This report contains recommendations as to to where and how Jeff is detained, and how he is medically treated. If the Tribunal ever comes to the view that Jeff is no longer a danger to himself, or any member of the public, then it will recommend his release. That recommendation is considered by the Minister of Health, who in turn makes its own decision about the case and advises the Governor. The Governor may then continue to detain Jeff, or otherwise order his release. If he is released, he may be subject to various conditions such as taking particular medication, living in a particular place, and so on. If Jeff was to breach any of those conditions, he would be detained once more. In some cases, forensic patients go on to become members of society once more, but in other cases they are never released.

12 March, 2010

A pub fight goes too far...

31-year old David Wright had a relatively unremarkable childhood, although his parents eventually separated and his mother moved up to Queensland. She remarried, but this was short-lived as her new husband became violent towards her. David, who was very close to his mother, helped her move back to Sydney. Not long after she suffered a stroke, and he had been helping take care of her since then.

He left school at the end of year nine and worked as a welder, before moving on to Scanlons Sweets, then Sydney City Council. However in 1991 he was imprisoned for two years and three months after he was convicted for robbery with wounding, after holding up a milk-bar owner in Cabramatta. Apparently the victim grabbed David, and in the process cut himself on the lip and finger.

After his release he was employed in body works, where he had been working part-time under the prison day-release program. He then decided to work as a nurse's aid in a nursing home, and then as a truck-driver for Linfox. An injury to his foot put an end to that and after that David remained unemployed.

He met his first girlfriend Dorothy when he was 14, and they lived together for 17 years, having two children. Although he was a regular pot-smoker, he started using liquid speed when he was 24, and this was when he committed the robbery and was sent to jail. By the time he got out Dorothy had become involved with another man. David tried to get back together with Dorothy, but they fought over the affair and it didn't work out. Dorothy went back to the other man, and is still with him today.

Around this time his mother also suffered her stroke, and it seems both incidents had a big effect on David. He began using heroin but decided to enter a detox program so he could take better care of his mother, but began abusing prescription medications instead. He started spending time with a woman named Petina, but her boyfriend became jealous, thinking the two were having sex. He often threatened David, saying things like "I know where you live". Ultimately the boyfriend made good on his threats and struck David across the face with a crowbar, as well as smashing in his headlights. After this David began to carry a knife for protection.

He began drinking regularly, and on the night of 16 October 1996 was particularly drunk. He was at the Riverwood Inn with some friends, and saw 23-year-old Geoff Compton making a scene. Geoff was drunk, and disrupting several other people in the pub. At about 9:30pm Geoff started arguing with David. It escalated until both left the pub and went to the carpark to have a physical fight. At one point Geoff had David in a headlock and was repeatedly punching him in the head. David pulled out his knife and stabbed at Geoff. Geoff suffered four wounds - two small wounds to the groin and one on his ear, plus a 2cm wound to the heart, which was ultimately fatal. However it was not immediately obvious that Geoff was fatally wounded - people separated the two men and held Geoff over a car bonnet trying to calm him down, while David walked off in another direction.

David had little memory of the incident - he couldn't remember arguing with Geoff inside the pub, but said that as he was leaving Geoff followed him to the door. When they got to the door at the same time, David says he became frightened. He remembers Geoff grabbing him in the headlock and punching him around the jaw and head. Other witnesses agree it was Geoff who started the fight, and that he had been drunkenly harassing other people in the pub all evening. He became quite aggressive towards David, and had been having a go at him all evening, for no apparent reason. Marc Jones tried to reason with Geoff and ended up being abused. Dean Velovich had also taken him aside and tried to reason with him, with no success.

David was interviewed by a psychologist while in custody, and she felt that he had an "exaggerated sense of danger" and a "hypersensitivity" as a result of his earlier assault by Petina's boyfriend. She also felt his prospects were good, as he was now in a stable, loving relationship with a woman named Sarah-Jayne, who he had been living with just before this incident. She remains loyal to him. He was also very concerned about his mother's health, and wanted to be able to care for her. While in custody he was unfortunately assaulted again, and was placed in protective custody.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, on the basis of an 'unlawful and dangerous act'. The Judge took his good personal characteristics into account, while of course noting that David's decision to carry (and use) a knife did not go in his favour. He also considered David's history, the fact he was drunk at the time, and that it was clearly a spontaneous response to a situation he was already frightened of.

David Wright was sentenced to seven years imprisonment with a non-parole period of four years. Taking into account the time he had already spent in custody, he was released on 16 March 2003.

10 March, 2010

"An Act of Sheer Stupidity"

Vin was already married with children when his parents decided to separate in 1996, but to help them out, he decided to let two of his younger brothers move in with him and his family. He promised his mother he would do his best to be a father to them, particularly the youngest Dan, who was in Year 12 at the time. Dan had been doing pretty well at school but since the break up of his parents he had started to wag school, smoke pot, and indulge in "other undesirable behaviour".

Vin's mother contacted him to say she'd just noticed some gold was missing from her safe. A couple of months later she also noticed some jewellery was missing. She told Vin about it, as only she, Dan, and another brother knew the combination to the safe. Eventually, one night in July at around midnight Vin rang his mother to say he was bringing Dan over so that they could all discuss these missing items. He had been drinking that evening, and had become increasingly angry about the whole situation.

Once they were all together, Vin interrogated his brothers as to whether they had robbed their mother. Both brothers denied any involvement, but given Dan's recent drug use, Vin was sceptical about his answers. After about 15-20 minutes, Vin went back out to his car where he had a Luger pistol. He had a licence for the Luger as he was a member of a shooting club, and he had it in the car because he was intending to take part in a practice shoot. He also grabbed a loaded magazine from the car.

In the argument that followed Vin's return to the house, Dan was shot. The bullet struck Dan on the upper right side of his head and passed through his brain, injuring him fatally. Vin rushed over to Dan and tried to revive him, but it was no use. Vin was charged with his brother's murder.

In his recorded interview, Vin told police "So I just said that if he stole money from Mum then I wouldn't let him off scot free, I will kill him. But that was only what I said to scare him and when I, I shot, I, somehow he jumped sideways and accidentally he was shot... I intended just to scare him like this and accidentally I shot him, so I put the gun down here like this and then I called another younger brother of mine to call the police. So I was just trying to scare him by pointing the gun at him, but somehow it went off. It went off and I hit him... When I shot at him I didn't aim at him, I was shooting on one side of where he was but somehow it hit him."

Vin told police earlier that he wanted to fire a shot away from Dan and had intended to shoot just to the side of him. He said he intended to do that, because Dan had taken no notice of his warnings to behave properly, and he wanted to appear "fair dinkum about what I intended to scare him".

At his trial, Vin told the court "I threatened him but he kept saying he didn't do it and at that stage I thought that there was no bullet in the gun... Never in my mind had I the thought of pulling the trigger but I do not know why the gun was fired." He said that he hadn't shot the gun much and wasn't all that familiar with its workings, and that although he loaded the magazine into the gun that night, he had never cocked it. He said he had used the gun on one occasion, firing about 20-30 rounds. He told police that the bullet automatically became loaded into the gun when the magazine was put it.

He was not cross-examined on this, however inconsistencies in earlier statements he had made to police, and also on a bail application, were shown too him. In the bail application he had lied to the court about where he was currently living, and the fact that he had separated from his wife. He attempted to explain this by stating that he had not wanted to mention his family problems to the court. He also said he was referring to different occasions, so that, although he thought he might shoot the gun, he hadn't actually meant to shoot it at the time it fired.

Vin was originally put on trial for murder, however during the proceedings an adjournment was granted so that further ballistic testing could be carried out on the Luger. This testing showed that it was possible to remove the magazine and replace it without affecting the bullet that was currently in the chamber. It was possible in those circumstances for the weapon to remain cocked, and therefore discharge. Basically, it was possible that a user might take out the magazine, see that it was empty, presume the gun was also empty and not realise there was a cartridge in the chamber. Anyone then pulling the trigger would cause the pistol to fire, even if they have not actually cocked it immediately beforehand.

The Crown then offered a charge of manslaughter, which Vin pleaded guilty to immediately, on the basis that he had committed an 'unlawful and dangerous act'.

The Judge found that Vin's earlier lies to the bail court about his marital status and living arrangements were a serious dent in his credibility. As a result, his Honour chose to reject the account of the shooting that Vin gave at his trial, and instead preferred the version he had given to police at the time. The Judge also rejected the idea that Vin was ignorant of how the pistol worked, as he had stated as trial. His Honour found that it was established beyond reasonable doubt that Vin took out the Luger from the car, loaded the magazine into it, pointed the gun just to the side of Dan and fired one shot, which unexpectedly hit him, killing him. Vin intended to shoot, but not to harm.

However, the Judge also took into account that Vin was a 36 year old man with five children, and had arrived in Australia as one of a group of boat people with two of his brothers. He then worked extremely hard to bring the rest of his family out to Australia to set up and operate a sewing company. He had a relatively minor criminal record of traffic and drink-driving offences, and had never been to jail before. He was clearly remorseful for his actions. The tragedy had arisen out of his attempt to take over his father's role when Dan seemed in need of some supervision, and that he was also trying to look after his mother's interests, although in an entirely inappropriate manner, as it turned out. Vin was attempting to assume a family role that was beyond him, and it seemed there was a minor degree of provocation on Dan's part, although this was in no way an excuse for his actions.

Nonetheless, the offence was still very serious, and his Honour commented that there was no room whatsoever for guns in ordinary social relations in today's society. He concluded that Vin's behaviour was "an act of sheer stupidity".

07 March, 2010

A Meeting at the Mekong Club

Ngoc Dang was born in 1957 in Saigon, one of a large number of children in a poor family. All the kids went to work from an early age. After the fall of Saigon, he worked on a collective farm for some time, before escaping to a refugee camp in Malaya, and on to Australia. He became a citizen, and was eventually joined here by his family, who lived together in Bossley Park. Dang moved out after his marriage in 1993.

He worked at Streets Icrecream for several years, eventually being retrenched with a large payout in 1997. Following this, he spent most of his time at the Mekong Club in Cabramatta drinking and gambling. On Friday 24 April 1998, he'd been at the Club for a longtime, only leaving briefly to pop home for a meal.

Van Hong also decided to spend his Friday night at the Mekong Club with some friends. He was having a good time, and having a fair bit to drink, particularly as it was a public holiday the next day (Anzac Day). He had already made himself known to security staff at the Club, by wearing a red baseball cap, which they had to ask him to remove on quite a few occasions.

At around 11pm he was sitting with Ngoc Dang and another friend, when they started arguing. Hong ended up punching Dang, who fell backwards and hit his head on the table. Hong then picked Dang up by the hair and pulled him back into his chair. He bought Dang a drink. Things seemed to be OK between the two met.

Hong ended up leaving the Club around 1am with with his friend Tu Phu Le. Le was arguing with Hong, telling him he shouldn't have hit Dang, because Dang was older than Hong. It was a matter of honour and respect. Hong didn't particularly agree with Le's point of view, and they began pushing and shoving each other outside on the footpath of the Club.

Around this time Dang, who had also left the Club, came rushing up to the men holding a pistol. Hong said to him "Fuck your mum. You want to play with me?" Dang raised the pistol and fired four shots, aimed directly at Hong. Three shots hit Hong, two in the head and one in the neck. He died instantly. The fourth shot hit Le in the head, causing what is described as a 'gutter' injury (a long gouge). Le was rushed to hospital and survived.

When the police first arrived there was a lot of confusion, and the people arrested were actually Le's friends who took him to the hospital. As a result, Dang managed to get away. He immediately went down to Melbourne where his sister lived, although she later told police he did not arrive until July. She said he stayed there only briefly, and left his car in her garage.

Based on witness reports police issued a warrant for his arrest. By November Dang found it too hard to hide anymore, and turned himself in with his solicitor at Cabramatta Police station. He did not tell them where the pistol was, and it has never been found. He was charged with the murder of Hong, and the malicious wounding of Le. He eventually pleaded guilty to both charges.

According to Dang he bought the pistol two months before the shooting to protect himself and his family. He claimed they had been threatened, although he did not say by whom. He also said there were drug dealers in the area, and so he felt it was necessary to carry this gun at all times, loaded, including inside the Mekong Club.

Dang's lawyers argued that he regretted the shame he brought to his family, so much so that he has severed all contact with his wife and children. He also felt that he was at risk in jail from friends of Hong's, and requested to be placed in protective custody. Dang told the court that he was not a violent person, but the Judge found this a bit difficult to believe, given that he had taken to arming himself with a loaded weapon at all times, even on social occasions.

Dang's lawyers also arguned that there were a number of mitigating factors in Dang's favour, including the fact that there had some level of provocation by Van Hong on the night, and that the offence was not a premeditated, but rather a hot-blooded response. He had no prior criminal record, had surrendered himself voluntarily (although seven months later) and was facing a particularly harsh sentence if served in protective custody. He was also quite drunk at the time.

Nonetheless the Judge found that the circumstances of the shooting were still extremely serious, particularly his use of a loaded gun in a public place. Further, witnesses described him as only being 'middle drunk', and the Crown urged that this should not be taken into account.

Taking everything into consideration, the Judge sentenced Dang to 16 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 12 years for the murder of Van Hong. For the malicious wounding of To Phu Le he was sentenced to three years, to be served at the same time.

He will be released on 3 November 2010.

03 March, 2010

A Manipulative Attention-Seeker - Part II

At about 4:00 in the morning on April 6th David Barac arrived at Ashfield Police station in Helen Cusack's car. He was interviewed by Detective Sergeant Mellini about her disappearance. David said Helen had arranged the meeting in Canberra to talk about their situation, and he travelled down by bus to meet her at the Greyhound terminal. He said that Helen booked and paid for his ticket, and he was going to get some papers from the Department of Immigration, as well as a resume and a drug and alcohol certificate. He said they met up and talked, then went to a motel, where Helen rang her friend Erica.

David said that he and Helen had sex, but afterwards they had a fight about her family. He left Helen in the hotel room in Watson and drove away in her car. He said he was sorry he had left her and was worried about her. David was then asked about the cut on his hand, and he said he hurt it in a park in Rozelle when accidentally smashing a beer bottle, after returning home from Canberra. David then appeared to become ill and said "you just want me to say I killed and buried her" to which D.S. Mellini replied "no-one's said anything about killing and burying Helen." He was taken to hospital.

David was placed under arrest for breaching his parole conditions, one of which was to stay away from alcohol, and sent to Maitland Correctional Centre. A listening device was placed in his cell om 23 April and monitored for the following week. He was interviewed by Detective Sergeant Brian McDonald of the AFP on 26 April but again denied any knowledge of his wife's whereabouts. However the listening device recorded several important conversations between David and his cellmate Becerevic.

David admitted to Becerevic that he killed Helen and dumped her body at Mooney Mooney. He said Helen was his wife, and that she had been very cross, abusing him over money. He admitted that when he put Helen in the boot of the car while she was still alive and conscious, so he stabbed her again. David then made what was described as "a chilling request", asking Becerevic, when he got out, to make sure Helen's body would never be found. He referred to Helen's death and her body in a "dramatically callous fashion", urging Becerevic into the gruesome task of disposing of the remains. David drew him a map so he could find the body, and they worked out a code so Becerevic could write to him and let him know when the job was done.

After listening to these conversations police found Helen's body off the old Pacific Highway at Mooney Mooney, about 4km north of the Brooklyn Bridge. The white shirt and grey suit Helen had taken with her in the car were found 35m away, stained with her blood. When Becerevic got to Blacktown Court on 3 May, he handed the police a note saying he had information about Helen Cusack. He also gave police David's hand-drawn map and code.

The post-mortem revealed Helen had died from knife wounds to the chest and neck. There were four notable bodily injuries caused by knife wounds, with matching holes in her clothing. David had told Becerevic that he'd taken a knife with him to the hotel room, and that he'd brought it from home. Douglas Kuhl noticed around April 6 that a kitchen knife with a 9-inch-long blade was missing from his Rozelle kitchen, where David had been staying until Sunday 2nd April. The knife had been last seen on about 30 or 31 March, when Kuhl had been sharpening it. No-one else in the house had taken the knife.

Helen's car was thoroughly inspected and her blood was found in the boot and the inside of the car, and her hair was found in the spare-tyre well and surrounding area, as well as on the rear parcel shelf of the hatch, and the hinge.

Detective Sergeant Llewellyn began to interview David at Maitland Police station on 2 May. David told him that he really loved his wife, but that her family had caused the break-up. He said her brother had turned her against him, telling her things that were untrue, to stop her from seeing him, and that the brother had threatened to kill him unless he stayed away from Helen. After receiving legal advice David then terminated the interview. The only other accounts he gave of the events were to his jail psychologists, which were varied, but can be reasonably summed up:
They had left Canberra at about 4:00am and were travelling back to Sydney when a violent argument developed between them. In various accounts this fight either started at the hotel, after 20 minutes, or after an hour and a half. He said that "she wanted to have a baby". When asked who began the argument he said "both went the same way - I was suicidal... she wanted a child but wanted to die too". He said that she had wanted to die "when we were making love in Canberra". Apparently he did not know why she wanted to die but "I said to her the same". They were "sick of the family interrupting, only six weeks after marrying".

David said the argument went for a good fifteen minutes "till I decided OK now is finished". She said "yeah". He said that's when he stopped the car at the side of the highway. He said "I was, this is what I can't remember, drink and cocaine and all that... I think I want - the voices started calling me". He told another doctor it was "Satan's voice... it was like I was possessed... Everything went black".

He went to the boot of the car, "I had to pull the knife from there". He said this was because "I want to kill me". He said the knife was always in the car as he worked as a cook and always had to have cutlery. He said he started to slash himself, to show Helen how much he loved her, and that he did not want to live without her. He showed the Doctors a very small scar on his left wrist and also one which was "scarcely obvious" near his right elbow.

Helen apparently panicked at this behaviour and told him to stop. He said he dropped the knife and she grabbed it, and a struggle broke out between them. He then had the knife in his left hand when 'she pushed my hand'. He demonstrated how the point of the knife had been pushed towards his throat by his wife and he had put his right hand in front of it. He showed Doctors an irregular scar on the palm of his right hand.

When asked why she had picked up the knife he said "I think she was doing to do to herself". He also said that she was going to stab his neck, because "I wanted to die still". David then demonstrated how he had stabbed her with what appeared to be several backhand blows with the knife held in his left hand pointing downwards. He had done this as "she wanted to die too". He said that she was dead when he stopped. He said he was confused and mixed up, and could not believe what he had done. He said he was not in his normal mental state.

David was asked what happened next. He said Helen was still in the passenger's seat of the Mazda, slumped back on the seat. He decided to try and look for a hospital as she had "lost her voice" and was not breathing. Instead he drove all the way back to Lilyfield Road in Rozelle with the body of his wife in the boot of the car.

He saw his friends and told them he had a fight with someone. He said one friend took him to Newcastle. Helen's car had been left in Rozelle with her body in the boot. He said he wanted the police to find it there. He told a friend, Troy, what he had done, who told him "he did not want to hear about it". David returned to Sydney, returned to the car (with the body still in the boot), drove it to Newcastle and dumped the body on the way, at Mooney Mooney. He then continued his journey to Newcastle and spoke to Peter Hillman, another friend, and the next day returned to Sydney where he handed himself in at the Ashfield police station. He said the car was left at the police station.

David pleaded guilty to murder. At the sentence hearing, the Crown submitted that the maximum sentence of life imprisonment should be imposed, bearing in mind David's attack upon his former wife, and the fact that the killing was clearly premeditated - he had lured her away under false pretences, and taken a knife with him. The Crown also pointed to the many inconsistencies in David's versions of events.

David told the court he was born in Peru in 1966, and began using cocaine, cannabis and tranquilisers during his teenage years at school there. He began using heroin and acid in Israel in the 1980's. He said his father abused drugs and alcohol and frequently assaulted his mother. He said he often turned to religious communities, in particular the Pentecostal Church. He stated that he had been hearing voices from the age of 13, and had been placed in a psychiatric hospital in Peru after he heard voices telling him to shoot people. In Israel he had heard voices telling him to destroy a disco, and had spent six months in a psychiatric hospital as a result. None of this could be independently confirmed.

David's medical files noted that he had a possible antisocial personality disorder, often making up 'facts' about himself. He would often state that his brother committed suicide, or his father committed suicide, or his sister attempting suicide. He would also state that his mother was dead in Columbia, although it appeared she was alive and living in Israel. This was confirmed by his psychologists, who described him as demanding, impulsive, prone to attention-seeking behaviour often accompanied by requests for medication. All agreed that there was no evidence of psychosis. They felt that his claims of hearing voices were manipulative and attention-seeking. He had a tendency to get very angry when things did not go his way:
"He is a person who is highly jealous, possessive and insecure, the subject of a pattern of self-pity, dejection and stubbornness punctuated periodically by angry outbursts. [I do] not accept his instances of hearing voices or assertions of being led by Satan and that his personality disorder makes him extremely susceptible to rejection and thus feelings of depression, fear and anger. Since his separation from Helen, [he] appears to have been attempting strategies to be reunited with her."

There were disturbing similarities with David's attack on his first wife - in both cases the relationship had broken down, the offences were premeditated and involved him arming himself with a knife, "with revenge in his heart". He also showed a complete disregard for court orders restricting his behaviour, be it the use of alcohol, or approaching his wife. Therefore the prospect of him re-offending once released seemed high.

Further: "He tends to be rather histrionic, manipulative and over-embellishes." They agreed his stories needed to be corroborated before they could be believed. It was concluded that "it was at least possible that he was attempting to simulate a major psychiatric disorder". None were prepared to say they would support a defence of mental illness.

David Barac was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 20 years. The earliest date for his release is 25 May 2017. However the Judge was at pains to note that there was no guarantee he would be released on this date unless the authorities were of the view that he would be appropriately rehabilitated, and would comply with supervision orders. He would be 61 years of age.

Postscript: In 2004 a three-year visitation ban was imposed on Ms Mercedes Barac (presumed to be a relative) for smuggling contraband items to David in Lithgow Jail. In 2002 CDs were found in an underwear parcel, and again in 2004 a mobile phone was seized, also hidden in underwear. Mercedes claimed she made a mistake. She applied to have the ban lifted in the Supreme Court, however it was rejected.

02 March, 2010

A Manipulative Attention-Seeker - Part I

David and Joanne Barac's relationship was marred by frequent episodes of violence. They had separated in the past, and on one occasion Joanne was forced to seek shelter in a women's refuge. By 1992 the marriage was clearly breaking down, and this could largely be blamed upon David's serious alcohol problem. In December 1992 he was convicted of a domestic violence assault upon Joanne, and in March 1993 he breached a restraining order by making threats against Joanne's life. Upon being arrested and getting bail, he immediately breached it again. He had a total disregard for the "shackles" of court orders that prevented him from approaching his wife and their 18-month-old baby. He freely admitted spying on them on a regular basis.

On 21 September 1992, David became particularly enraged by this continual denial of the access that he wanted (and felt was his right), so he dressed in black, armed himself with a knife and headed to Joanne's home "with revenge in his heart." He had, of course, been drinking - two 750mL bottles of spirits, as well as smoking pot and snorting cocaine. When he got there, he saw a man who was also living in Joanna's house, and became even more enraged. He began circling the house, trying to figure out a way to get to the man. When Joanne and their baby arrived home he attacked her instead, striking her with blows to the head and knocking her to the ground. He began stabbing her with such force that the blade of the knife broke away from the handle.

Joanne pretended to be dead (or at least unconscious) in the hopes that he would give up and leave her alone, but he was undeterred. He forced her to stand, tied her up and forced her into the car. He briefly allowed her to attend to their crying baby, then drove her to another house where he detained her for hours. He spent that time continually threatening her with knives, before eventually releasing her.

David was arrested and charged with malicious wounding with intent, and kidnapping, made all the more serious by the fact that he was at the time under the restraining order, and had just been given bail for breaching it. The maximum penalty was 25 years imprisonment. In court he claimed he was completely and utterly remorseful for his actions, and promised to take steps to come to terms with his alcohol problem. He was sentenced to just four and a half years in prison, with a non-parole period of two years.

While serving his sentence at Junee in 1993, David met 23-year-old Helen Cusack. She was working at the jail as an English teacher and librarian, and she helped him improve his English while he in turn taught her Spanish, his native language. She couldn't help falling for him, and they began a relationship.

When he was released in September 1994, they moved in together in Potts Point. She was working at Coopers & Lybrand, and he was a chef at the popular Mezzaluna restaurant. They married almost immediately, and stayed in Sydney for another six months. In February 1995 they planned to move to Adelaide together while he applied to study as a minister of religion in the Wesley Mission in Adelaide. On the way, they stopped off at the Cusack family home, a property called 'Corio' in Eurogilly in the Riverina.

It was here that things began to take a turn for the worse, as it became increasingly obvious that Helen's family were not happy about her new husband, and according to David they began to disrupt their lives, because they did not accept him. He decided to leave his new wife and return to Newcastle, where he stayed with some friends. Helen remained at Corio with her mother Celia, phoning him after a few days to say she wanted a month or so to think things over.

That month David got a temporary job at the National Training Board, starting on 21 March. He was also required to attend alcohol rehabilitation programs as part of his parole conditions, and he enrolled at Kedesh House in Wollongong in March 1995. He commenced the course, but left on 30 March and never went back.

On 1 April, a Saturday, David phoned Helen at Corio and spoke with Celia, asking her to give Helen a message to contact him. Helen then made several attempts to get in touch with David, who was now staying with friends in Lilyfield Rd, Rozelle (Douglas Kuhl and Gus Laviano). She eventually spoke to him at about 8:00am on Sunday 2nd. David told her that he had to be at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Canberra on Monday 3rd about possible deportation to his home country of Peru. He was going to take the bus that day to Canberra, and Helen agreed to meet him at the Joliment bus terminal in Canberra City. Helen also spoke to Doug Kuhl and said she'd organised David's bus ticket and booked a motel. David told Gus he had to go to Canberra for a breach of parole hearing.

Needless to say, there was no deportation hearing scheduled for Monday 3rd, or indeed for any other day. Nor was there any breach of parole hearing. Helen had apparently contacted the Department of Immigration back on March 7, stating that she wished to support the deportation application, but it was not clear whether David knew of this or not. At his request she prepared a letter stating that she and David had separated on March 2nd, but were on friendly terms.

David left Rozelle at about 6pm on Sunday night to catch the bus to Canberra, and Helen left home at about 9:45pm. She had ironed a white shirt for David to wear at the non-existent hearing. She hung this and a grey suit over a coathanger and took it with her in the car, a silver Mazda 626 hatchback. Her flatmate Erica Stevens confirmed all of this. She then drove to Joliment bus terminal, where she met David, and they drove to the Carotel Hotel in Watson, arriving at around 11:30pm. They registered under the name Barac, and were given room 32. Helen phoned Erica at about 12:45 am and told her she would be spending the night at the hotel with David.

She was never heard from or seen alive again.

David arrived back at Lilyfield Rd at about 10:00am on Monday 3rd. His first words to Doug Kuhl were "All hell's broken loose." He showed Doug a large open wound on the palm of his right hand, which was bleeding. Doug also saw a 3cm blood stain on the front of David's T-shirt. He said "Where's Helen?" David replied "She's at the hospital." He then asked if he could wash the car, and without waiting for an answer immediately began doing so in the back courtyard of the house.

A short time later Gus Laviano arrived back at the Rozelle house and asked David "What happened?" David said "I got into a fight and got stabbed in the hand". He then held out his hand and Gus saw a wound that appeared very deep and needed medical attention. He said "Why did you get into a fight?". David told him:
"When I got off the bus I was met by Helen and another fella. I said to Helen 'Who's this fella?' and he said 'Who are you talking to you piece of shit?'. I said to him 'Who are you calling a piece of shit? Your words are quite tough, lets see how tough you are - I'll give you a run'. All of a sudden this guy put his hand behind his back - I was puzzled - and the next thing I knew he had a knife". Later David told Gus "When I had the fight with the bloke, Helen threw me the keys".

David didn't give any more details after that. He gave the car keys to Gus, who put them in his own glovebox. The keys were in an Oroton leather case, and belonged to Helen.

Robert Longbottom, the security guard working at the Joliment bus terminal on the night of April 3rd, reported no fights or other incidents that night.

David then asked Gus to drive him to another friend's place at Wallsend, near Newcastle, which he agreed to do. On the way they stopped at about 11:45am at a medical practice belonging to Dr Chew in North Sydney, where David had the wound in his right palm stitched. Dr Chew's opinion was that the wound (2 lacerations) was a few hours old at that stage, and was inflicted by a knife. David told Dr Chew that he had arrived home at about 8:00am to find his wife in bed with another man, and that he punched him but the man stabbed him back.

Gus then continued driving David to the house of his friends Kim and Angela Maybury in Wallsend. They arrived at around 2:30 in the afternoon. David spent the afternoon there, and Kim drove him to Broadmeadow Railway station at around 7:30-8:00pm. David next turned up at his friend Troy Power's house in Mayfield, where he asked if he could stay the night. He left again at about midday the next day, saying he was going to catch the train back to Sydney.

On Tuesday 4th April, Celia Cusack phoned the Major Crime Squad of the Australian Federal Police, concerned for her daughter's welfare. This message was relayed to the State police. At about 3:30pm police arrived at the Lilyfield Rd address and saw Helen's car in the back courtyard. There was damage to the front bonnet, along with some blood stains. The car was locked, so were not able to search inside, but they saw a handbag on the front seat, which later turned out to be Helen's. The police then spoke to other occupants of the house, Paul Bocska and John Devitt, and asked them to tell David to contact Ashfield police.

David arrived back at the Rozelle house around 4:30pm, and Paul told him the police had visited, asking who had the keys to the car. David asked Paul if they had looked inside the car, and when Paul said yes, David started to panic. He climbed into the car and backed it out of the driveway, hitting the gatepost on the way. He drove quickly away. Little did they all know, the body of Helen Cusack (pictured below on her wedding day) had been in the boot the entire time.

To be continued...