14 April, 2010

The night nurse - Part I

Brendan and Vester Fernando were cousins, both in their late 20’s. In December of 1994 Vester was staying at Orana Haven in Brewarrina, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, and Brendan was staying with his girlfriend near Walgett.

Sandra Hoare was a young nurse on duty at Walgett District Hospital. Her fiance saw her dress for work before he drove her to work. She wore a white shirt and blue slacks, with a bra, panties, white sockettes and shoes. Her hair was pulled back in a pony-tail.

In the very early hours of 9 December 1994, the Fernando cousins abducted her from the Peg Cross Ward at the hospital, sexually assaulted her, and finally killed her.

Sandra’s body was found in a paddock about 400m away from the hospital. She was naked except for her slacks, shoes and sockettes, plus some material around her neck. The zippered fly of her slacks was undone, and they were held together with a single button. Her bra and panties were never found.

She had some cuts on her jaw, and two very severe wounds on her neck. One wound was more than halfway around her neck, mainly to the left back side, severing several muscles, the jugular vein and vertebral artery. That alone would have caused her death, but the second wound was across the front of her neck, passing through the larynx and into the voice box. No semen was found on or inside her body.

Many witnesses saw Vester and Brendan that night in Walgett. Vester’s sister Wendy said he turned up at her house in Walgett at about 6pm with his overnight bag. He was then driven to a pub and was last seen there at about 10pm. The next time she saw him was at her house the next morning.

Robert Walford saw the Fernandos around midnight, and remembers getting involved in a fight with Vester that went on for about half an hour. During the fight, Vester grabbed him by his shirt with his left hand, and Robert saw he was holding a machete in the other.

Sharada Morgan saw Brendan and Vester in a Walgett street early in the morning of 9 December. Sharada was with her brother Lindsay and another person, when she saw a police car approach, and then saw Brendan throw a knife into the bush as the car passed. After that she saw Brendan go and get the knife back and give it to Vester, who put it down his shorts. Later she saw both Fernando boys and their friend Mick Jackson walking towards the hospital.

At the trial she was cross-examined:
“Q: Remember you said, or it was suggested to you, that you said at the hearing at Dubbo, the preliminary hearing at Dubbo, that it was Vester you saw with this knife and not Brendan. Do you remember those questions a minute ago?
A: Yeah.
Q: Do you remember at the preliminary hearing suggesting that the thing you saw was shaped like a knife. Do you remember answering like that, page 49.40, 15 August 1995. Do you remember giving an answer like that?
A: Can you say that again?
Q: Do you remember when you gave some evidence at Dubbo. You went along to the court at Dubbo and some people asked you some questions there. Do you remember that?
A: Yeah.
Q: You were asked some questions about what you had seen and about this knife. Do you remember those questions?
A: Yeah.
Q: Do you remember saying there ‘It was shaped like a knife, that’s all I know’. Do you remember giving an answer like that?
A: No.
Q: You do not remember that at all?
A: I said it was shaped - I said - when he said to me ‘How do you know it was a knife’, I said ‘Anyone knows a knife when they see one’. That’s what I said.
Q: You also said ‘It was shaped like a knife. That’s all I know’?
A: Yes.
Q: Do you mean there that what you saw was something that was shaped like a knife?
OBJECTION (CROWN). ALLOWED.
Q: Do you mean there that what you saw was something that was shaped like a knife?
A: Yeah.
Q: Well, do you agree you answered in that way at the hearing at Dubbo?
A: Yeah.
Q: I am sorry, what was that?
A: Yeah.
Q: Are you really saying that what you saw was not a knife but something that was shaped like a knife?
A: It was.
Q: You then assumed, it must have been a knife because it was shaped like that, is that right?”

The Crown then took the witness back to her evidence in the Dubbo hearing:
“Q: Is this what was said at the lower court. This question was put to you: ‘Q. Is that the time that you say you saw Vester throw…
A: Yes.
Q: … a knife into the bushes‘?
A: Yes.
Q: Could it have been something else?
A: It was shaped like a knife, that’s all I know.
Q: It was shaped like a knife?
A: Yes.
Q: So it may have been something that was shaped like a knife?
A: How can you get something shaped like a knife?
Q: I don’t know. You answer the question.
A: Uh, no.
Q: So you are saying that ‘what you saw’ and you answered ‘Was a knife‘. Is that right?
A: Yeah.”

Lindsay Morgan agreed he saw the Fernandos in the street at 1am or 2am on the 9th. He saw Vester holding a machete in his right hand, and Brendan was walking beside him. He heard Vester ask Brendan to go back to the hospital and steal a car, and they both asked Mick Jackson to come with them. He then saw them head towards the hospital.

Mick Jackson told police on 11 December that he had seen the Fernando boys in the street on the night of the 8/9th, and Vester asked him to come with them to steal a car. Vester said “Don’t worry about anyone grabbing you Mick, I’ve got a machete here”. Vester then pulled up his shirt and showed him a blade and said “if anyone grabs you, I’ll kill them”.

Residents at Orana Haven had seen Vester with machetes in the previous days, including David Doolan, Bruce Scott and Derek Pitt.

Jackson told police that Vester said he was going to his sister’s place to get a screwdriver to break into the car. Jackson left them after this.

Mrs Wells’ car, parked in the hospital grounds at around 10:45pm by her boyfriend Adam Jackson who worked as a nurse at the hospital, was broken into that night. Adam went over to the Peg Cross ward where Sandra worked (and where the car was also parked) at around 2:45am to visit her, but she wasn’t there. He did find a patient with a head-wound, and noticed blood in the building. On his way back he saw the broken window on the car, and saw damage to the lock and ignition. He also noticed tapes and sunglasses were missing from the glove box, plus a photo of Mrs Wells’ children.

When police later searched Wendy Fernando’s house, where Vester claimed to have spent the night, they found a clear cassette cover with part of a cassette tape inside, with ‘Bon Jovi Bed of Roses’ printed on it. The other part of the Bon Jovi tape, and the cardboard insert from the cover, were found at the base of a tree near the levee bank of the dam. Police also found a bag in the boot of the car Vester travelled in shortly after Sandra’s death. It turned out to be Vester’s bag, and contained the photo of Mrs Wells’ children (torn) plus other items from her glove box.

Two machetes were found in a dam near Sandra’s body, and medical experts agreed either one could have been used in the attack. A screwdriver was found near the machetes. Bruce Scott from Orana Haven said he saw Vester showing a black-handled machete to other residents, and agreed it looked like the one that was found in the police search. Derek Pitt also stated that Vester had shown him three knives while at Orana. When shown the two machetes police found, he said they were “similar to the ones I have seen”. Vester denied all of this.

At an area the police investigated Mrs Wells identified her stolen sunglasses.

It had rained heavily at about 2:30am in Walgett on 9 December, and the soil there was heavy, tending to be sticky when wet and sticking to the soles of shoes. There were muddy shoe-prints in the hospital ward where Sandra had been abducted, and around Mrs Wells’ damaged car. There were shoe prints in the soil across the front of the hospital building and near a set of steps at the end of the ward.

The Crown case was that whoever broke into the car, headed to the hospital afterwards.

There were also three sets of footprints leading away from the hospital to the place where Sandra was attacked. At that point, a timbered area near a rugby oval, the ground was disturbed. Specifically, at one end there were two distinct impressions about 30cm apart, and at the other end there was a single larger impression, where police found a black hair elastic. Also found were a pair of scissors with ‘Sandra’ on them, a lens-cleaning cloth, and a small metal button with a thread identical to those on her blouse.

Three sets of footprints led away from that area to where Sandra’s body was found. From there, two sets of prints continued on, about 1m apart. They led to the levee bank where the tape and screwdriver were found. A single set of prints crossed the levee and looped back, then two sets moved onto the street, where they disappeared.

Police took careful impressions of these footprints, and the size matched the size of the shoes Vester said he was wearing that night. The cast of a print taken from near the rugby oval matched impressions from inside and outside the hospital ward where Sandra was working.

However, Vester claimed to be wearing black shoes, while Lindsay Morgan described him wearing brown shoes that night, and Robert Walford described him wearing hobnail shoes or work boots.

Vester gave evidence and denied going anywhere near the hospital, or possessing any machetes. He admitted running into Robert Walford, but said he was only holding a small iron bar that he found. He said that after leaving Walford he ran into Mick Jackson, and all three of them had gone to his sister’s place to have a smoke, and Vester stayed there the rest of the night.

Detective Sergeant Pollock and other police arrived at Brendan Fernando’s sister’s house where he was staying with his sister and her de-facto Colin Morris early on 10 December. He was woken up and asked to go to the police station for questioning.
Det. Sgt. Pollock asked Brendan if he wanted to be electronically interviewed and Brendan declined. Pollock told him he’d have to record that refusal electronically. Before that, Brendan was asked generally about the machete Vester had been seen with the night before:
“Q: Where is the machete now?
A: Vester threw it over the levee bank.
Q: Are you prepared to show us where you threw it?
A: Yeah.
Q: Are you prepared to go with us to show us what happened with the woman and we will have a video made of what you show us?
A: I don’t want to go too close to where it happened.
Q: Are you prepared to go with us to that area?
A: Yeah, but not too close.
This exchange was recorded in Det. Sgt. Pollock’s police notebook, before they arrived at the station to start the electronic recorded interview (ERISP).

ERISP:
“Q: Do you agree to be electronically interviewed?
A: No
Q: Is that no?
A: No, I don’t want to do it.
Q: Right. Are you prepared to be interviewed by way of a typed record of interview. Do you understand that question?
A: Yeah I do, but -
Q: Sorry?
A: I don’t think I can handle an interview at the moment.
Q: You don’t think you can handle an interview at the moment. Do you agree that while I was talking to you earlier I wrote the questions and answers I my notebook?
A: Yeah.
Q: Are you prepared to read this notebook to me, and, um, tell me whether the questions and answers entered there are correct?
A: Yes.
Q: Or do you want… I may have to help you read them. Are you prepared for me to do that?
A: Can’t understand that writing.
Q: You can’t?
A: I can’t understand that writing.
Q: Are you quite happy for me to read those questions and answers to you?
A: Yes.
Q: Well, what I’ve got written there is you, 12:25am at the house where you were, then your name. You gave an address of 7 Hammond St Goodooga. Right, and your girlfriend’s name. Then my introduction to you and as I told you I am enquiring into the death of Sandra Hoare and I gave you a caution that you didn’t have to answer my questions unless you wanted to, as anything you did say may be later used in evidence. Did you understand that?
A: Yes.
Q: And you said ‘Yeah’. I said I told you, sorry, “I have told you that you were in town with Vester Fernando early yesterday morning. Do you want to say anything about that?’
A: Yes.
Q: And you said ‘No, I only got here this morning’.
I said ‘Is Vester your brother?’
You said ‘No, my cousin’.
I said ‘I’ve been told you were seen with a machete near Fing’s house’
You said ‘No’.
I said ‘Did you go to the hospital yesterday morning about 3am?’
You said ‘No, I didn’t get here until 7am… 7 o’clock‘, I should say.
I said ‘Is Vester in Walgett at the moment?’
You said ‘No, he’s in Brewarrina at a drying out centre’.
I said ‘I have been told you are…’, sorry, ‘I have been told that you have been identified by hour people in Walgett after midnight yesterday, what do you say about that?’
You said ‘I only went there to get the car’.
I said ‘What happened then?’
You said ‘I looked in through a window and said ‘There’s a sheila there’.’
I said ‘What happened then?’
‘Vesta grabbed her and I said ‘What are you fucking doing man?’’
I said ‘Did you assault the old man?’
You said ‘No, he told me to hold onto the girl and he hit the old man’.
I said ‘What happened then?’
And you said ‘He took her and started going scrub’.
I said ‘Did you have sex with the girl?’
You said No, I already had sex. Vester had sex, had it with her’.
I said ‘Were you there when he had sex with her?’
You said ‘Yeah’.
I said ‘What happened to her underpants?’
You said ‘He took them’.
I said ‘What happened to her bra?’
You said ‘He took them too. He put them in his pocket’.
I said ‘Who hit the woman with the machete’
You said ‘He did, I had my back turned walking away’.
I said ‘Did you see him hit her?‘
You said ‘No, I heard screaming but’.
I said ‘Did you try and stop him?’
You said ‘He was the man in control, he had the blade’.
I said ‘Where did he get the machete?’
You said ‘Near the church under a building’.
I said ‘Where did he carry it?’
You said ‘Up his sleeve. He had scissors taped, taped to his shoulder too. This shoulder’ and you pointed to your left shoulder. Is that correct?
A: Mmmm.
Q: I said ‘Were you carrying a screwdriver?’
You said ‘No’.
I said ‘How did you smash the car window?’
You said ‘Vester did that with a machete… With the machete’, I should say.
I said ’Were you drinking yesterday?’
You said ’I was pretty full, I’d been drinking all day’.
I said ’You seem to be able to recall everything though’
You said ‘How could you forget it? It was bad’.
I said ‘Was Vester drinking?’
You said ‘No, he didn’t look it’. Is that all correct?
A: Yes.
Q: Are you prepared to sign that?
A: Yes.”

Brendan was then asked if he wanted to be interviewed any further about what he said, and he replied “I can’t handle the pressure”.

Further ERISP:
“Q: Do you agree that I asked you earlier if you were prepared to show us where you threw, where Vester threw the machete?
A: Mmm.
Q: Are you still prepared to do that?
A: Mm.
Q: And you are prepared to show us where you went, um, when you went to break into the car early yesterday morning at that hospital?
A: You want me to take you back up there?
Q: Yeah.
A: No -
Q: Hey?
A: No.
Q: Then could you show us where you went at the hospital and where you went with the girl? Not prepared to do that.
A: No, I couldn’t do that.
Q: OK, well, are you prepared to show where Vester threw the machete?
A: Yeah.”

The interview was then suspended. Immediately after that, Det. Sgt. Pollock asked Brendan (unrecorded) “Listen, why don’t you show us where you went up at the car, eh?”
Pollock agreed in cross-examination that he was trying “to have him change his mind” about refusing to show police where they took Sandra.

Brendan was then taken in the police car to show them where the machete was disposed of. This was recorded on video, in what is known as a ‘runaround’:
“Q: Now Brendan, do you agree I just spoke with you a little while ago that, um, we are going to now go and you are going to show me where Vester threw the machete?
A: Yes.
Q: Yes. Do you agree that I asked you whether you agreed with having our conversation during this trip recorded on tape?
A: Yeah.
Q: And you do agree with having it done that way?
A: Yes.
Q: And do you understand that on our trip along this way, um, I will have to ask you some questions?
A: Yes.
Q: Now I want you to understand that you don’t have to answer any of those questions or say anything unless you wish to, but whatever you do say will be recorded and later given in evidence. Do you understand that?
A: Yes."

To be continued...

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