23 June, 2010

Calabrian conflict

Domenico Barca, his sister Grazzia and her husband Raffaele Petula were all born in the Italian province of Calabria. Domenico and his family had emigrated to Australia some twenty-two years prior, and has been a naturalized Australian citizen for fourteen years. He lived with his wife in Cambridge Park, NSW, and the Petulas lived in St Marys.

For most of 1973, Grazzia and her husband had been having arguments, not only about money, but also his personal behaviour, towards other women, and his children.

On the morning of 27th September 1973 Domenico was helping Raffaele build a shed on his land at St Marys. They all ate lunch together at around 11:30am. After, Domenico and Raffaele left in Domenico’s car. Domenico said he then dropped Raffaele at the train station at around 12:45, to catch the train to work. Domenico then said he went to two hardware shops to buy nails, and returned to Raffaele’s at around 1pm. He remained there working on the shed until returning home to Cambrige Park at around 5:45pm.

Raffaele was seen at a bar in St Mary’s at around 12:30 to 1pm that day, and had ordered a schooner of beer and a schooner of lemonade. He was not seen again.

On Friday evening, 28 September 1973, Raffaele’s body was found in a rubbish dump in a lonely area of bush at Llandilo, NSW. It was partially concealed by some branches, a mudguard and a sheet of felt. It appeared he had been shot twice in the head with a .22 rifle. His skull was fractured, and in the opinion of the doctor performing the post-mortem, this was most likely caused by heavy clubbing over and around the head with a blunt object or instrument. There were some marks on his limbs that suggested he might have been dragged by two persons, but there was also evidence that Raffaele had been shot at or near the place where he was found.

The doctor was of the opinion that death occurred approximately twenty-four to twenty-eight hours before the post-mortem examination took place, as rigor mortis had set in. This placed time of death between 7:30pm and 11:30pm on Thursday 27th September 1973. However, the Crown case was that the murder occurred between 1:00pm and 3:00pm on Thursday 27th, and that the doctor was in error in her estimation of the time of death. The contents of Raffaele’s stomach were an important factor in arriving at this determination. On the day, he had eaten a meal at 11:30am, of potato chips, olives, cheese, salami and capsicum or chilli. The state of digestion of the food indicated that he would have died at most an hour after eating.

Domenico initially claimed that he had an alibi at the time, namely that he was purchasing roofing nails at a local store. However there was some question that these invoices may have been altered. He was interviewed about this by police:
“Q: You will remember that on thr 4th October this year, you came to this police station.
A: Yes, I remember.
Q: At the same time you produced these two receipts to me: (Domenico is shown Receipt No. 36 from Gabriels Builders Hardware, dated 27.9.73; and Receipt No. 42461 from Homemakers Store dated 26.9.73) Are those the two receipts you showed to me?
A: Yes
Q: Do you agree that at the time you produced those receipts to me you told me that you were given them at the time you obtained the nails?
A: Yes
Q: And do you agree that at the time you handed me those receipts they were in a very crumpled condition?
A: Yes
Q: Do you remember that when you handed me those receipts I asked why they were crumpled?
A: Yes, I told you I had them in my pocket since I got the nail.
Q: Since 4th October, we have made enquiries at Gabriels Hardware Store, St Marys, and have been informed that Receipt No. 36 was not issued to you at the time you got the nails at all, but was issued to you on 2nd October, and at your request back-dated to 27th September 1973. Have you anything to say about that?
A: I went there on Tuesday and asked them to give me a receipt for the nail and the lady was there. I wanted to see the one that served me, but he wasn’t there, and I say I bought four pound of nail and they didn’t give me the receipt. I said ‘Do you remember the time I left here was about five to one?’. She say ‘I can’t remember’.
Q: Why did you go back to Gabriels on Tuesday and ask them for a receipt dated 27 September?
A: It was very important to me to have the receipt.
Q: Why was it very important to you?
A: So if anyone ask me I could say that’s my receipt where I bought the nail.
Q: Why was it important to show anyone where you bought the nails?
A: If someone ask me it handy to have.
Q: And do you say that is the only reason why you went back to Gabriels and had the receipt back-dated?
A: The only reason.
Q: We have also made enquiries at Homemakers Store at St Marys, and have been informed that on Tuesday 4th October, you also visited that store and asked for this Receipt No. 42461 for two pound of nails to be back-dated to 26th September 1973. Why did you do that?
A: If anyone ask me for the receipt it handy to have it.
Q: And do you ask for receipts for everything you buy?
A: Yes.
Q: Do you normally get the receipts at the time you buy the articles?
A: It never worry me if I get or not.
Q: If it does not worry you if you get the receipts or not, why did you go back and especially get these receipts back-dated?
A: When I been here first I did not have the receipt with me, and then I better go back and ask to give me the receipt, to show to you where I been that days.
Q: Why didn’t you tell Detective Sergeant Sawyer that you did not have a receipt for the nails, but if he went to the store the people would remember you?
A: No one ask me, I not worry about it.
Q: But you did worry enough about it to go back to the store and ask them to back-date the receipt for you?
A: Yes.
Q: And do you agree that you asked the woman at Gabriels Hardware to write on the docket that you purchased the nails about one o’clock?
A: I ask her to put a time on the receipt and told her I was there about five t one and she told me they don’t put time on the receipt.
Q: When you asked her to put a time on the receipt, was that to try and show that you were at Gabriels Building Store purchasing nails about one o’clock on the Thursday 27th September 1973?
A: Yes.
Q: And do you agree that when the man at the Homemakers Store first wrote this receipt (Domenico shown Receipt No. 42461) that he put the date of the docket 2nd September 1973?
A: Yes, I agree.
Q: And do you agree that you asked him to alter the date to 26th September?
A: Yes
Q: And we have been informed that he overwrote the 26th over the date, and then you said to him ‘That is no good, I don’t want it written over, I will have to have another docket’?
A: Yes, I tell him that.
Q: Would you care to tell me why you didn’t want it written over?
A: To make him careful, he do it properly next time.
Q: I suggest to you that the reason you did not want the date altered was that you wanted anyone inspecting that docket (points to Receipt No. 42461), that docket, to believe that it was written out on 26.9.73?
A: Yes. Could I have a glass of water?”

Ammunition that matched the kind used to kill Raffaele was found under Domenico’s house, hidden in a sock. Domenico initially denied having a rifle, but the police told him were going to search his house for a rifle the next day. Immediately upon leaving the police station he returned home, and at 2am emerged carrying a large parcel. He put it inside his car and drove off towards the Nepean River. The police intercepted his car and found the rifle under the back seat, wrapped in material with a sock over the end of the barrel. This matched the sock in which the ammunition was found. Domenico later told police that he had found the rifle buried under his house:
“Q: How did you come to find this gun?
A: After I leave you last time, I was worried about the bullets that were found under my house. I couldn’t go to sleep, I got my lead light out and got under the house and found the gun.
Q: I find it difficult to believe that any person would make a search underneath their house at two o’clock in the morning on the off-chance that a gun might be hidden there. Further, from what you have told us, it is apparent that at the time you were spoken to by the Police, you were headed away from the Penrith Police Station, and in fact were driving towards the river or the gravel pits. Have you anything to say about that?
A: All right, I will tell you. When you told me last night that the Police would come back in the morning to look again for the gun, I knew they would find it, so I dig it up and put it in my car. I never tell my wife. She had a headache, so I told her I would go to the chemist to get something for her. I knew I had to get rid of the gun tonight.
Q: Is this the gun used to kill Raffaele Petula?
A: Yes.”

Later in the police interview:
“Q: We have been informed that during the morning of Thursday 27th September 1973, Raffaele and your sister Grazzia had a very big argument at the house, in your presence. What do you have to say about that?
A: I can’t answer that question.
Q: We have been informed that during the course of this argument your sister Grazzia accused Raffaele of misbehaving towards his daughters. Have you anything to say about that?
A: I can’t answer that.
Q: As at the morning of Thursday 27th September 1973, did you know that Raffaele and your sister Grazzia had had many fights about money, land, and Raffaele’s conduct towards his daughters?
A: That is their business. I won’t answer that.
Q: Di you know that Raffaele is well known in the public bar of the St Mary’s Hotel?
A: I wouldn’t know this.
Q: We have made inquiries at the St Marys Hotel, and we have been informed that Raffaele did not go to the public bar of that hotel on the afternoon of Thursday 27th September. We have also made enquiries at the St Marys Railway Station and have been informed that Raffaele did not catch the 1.03pm train or the 1.18pm train from that Railway Station on that day. Have you anything to say about that?
A: I dropped him there and he go to work.
Q: We have made inquiries at the shops in Queen Street, and from the taxi drivers operating from the taxi rank at the St Marys Railway Station, and not one person saw Raffaele in Queen Street, or near the St Marys Railway Station on the afternoon of Thursday 27th September 1973. Although he was seen in the area by a number of people on the preceding Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Have you anything to say about that?
A: I still say I left him at the taxi rank at twelve forty five.
Q: We have caused the photograph of Raffaele to be published in the local newspapers, and requested that any person who saw him in between the time you say you left him at the St Marys Railway Station and when he was found in the bush at Llandilo, to contact the police, but not one person has reported seeing Raffaele after you say you left him. Have you anything to say about that?
A: No, I have nothing to say about that. I left him at the station, that’s it.
Q: If you had left him at the station as you say, would you expect some person to have seen him somewhere after you had driven away?
A: Oh yeah.
Q: We have been informed that between 12 noon and 2.30pm on Thursday 27th September 1973, two persons saw Raffaele in the public bar of the Waggon Wheel Hotel, which is situated in the Great Western Highway, St Marys. Have you anything to say about that?
A: Well, look, I have nothing to say about that.
Q: We have been informed that Raffaele was served with a schooner of beer and a schooner of lemonade which he carried from the hotel into the street. Do you know anything about that?
A: I know nothing about that.
Q: Do you deny that you were the person to whom Raffaele took the schooner of lemonade on that day?
A: I have nothing to say about that.
Q: Do you agree that when I interviewed you on 4th October 1973, that you told me that you did not like beer very much?
A: Yes, I agree with that.
Q: And do you also agree that during the course of the same interview you told me that you often preferred to drink a schooner of lemonade?
A: Sometime.
Q: Have you been to the Waggon Wheel Hotel at St Marys with Raffaele?
A: Yes, on Wednesday night I go there with him from my sister’s place. I was to go home and he say to me ‘You drop me at the pub’. I drop him at the pub, and he say ‘You come in’. I go in with him and I had a lemonade and he had a beer. Then he said ‘You have another one’. I say ‘No, I go home now’. He say ‘All right’, and I drive him back home to his place, and I reach my place at ten o’clock. That was a late night I had.
Q: On that occasion which bar did you have the drink?
A: We had the drink in the bar on the corner of the street.
Q: Did you drink the lemonade on the bar?
A: Yes.
Q: And how many beers did Raffaele have on that occasion?
A: He had only one.
Q: Did you and Raffaele drink your drink whilst you were standing at the bar?
A: Yes.
Q: When you drove Raffaele to him home on Thursday 27th September 1973, did he have his coat with him?
A: I don’t remember.
Q: We have been informed that when Raffaele went to the Waggon Wheel Hotel and bought the glass of beer and the glass of lemonade he was wearing his coat, that is on Thursday 27th September 1973. Have you anything to say about that?
A: When I drop him at the station at twelve forty-five, he no have a coat. He have the shirt with the sleeve rolled up.
Q: Are you absolutely sure of that?
A: Oh yeah, sure.
Q: What makes you so sure?
A: I remember it.
Q: What makes you so sure?
A: I remember it.
Q: Do you remember being interviewed by Detective Sergeant Sawyer at the Penrith Police Station on 30th September, this year?
A: Oh yeah
Q: Do you remember Sergeant Sawyer saying to you ‘Can you tell me what clothing Raffaele was wearing when you last saw him?’, can you remember him asking you that?
A: Yes.
Q: And do you remember telling the Sergeant ‘I know he was wearing a shirt with squares, I didn’t much notice’.
A: Yes.
Q: Well, do you agree that there is no mention there that Raffaele is not wearing a coat?
A: Well, he probably not ask me.
Q: Do you know that Raffaele’s coat was found back at his house after he was found dead?
A: No.
Q: Were you at the Petula home all day Friday 28th September 197u3?
A: Yes.
Q: And were you there on Saturday 29th September 1973?
A: Yes
Q: Were you there on Sunday 30th September 1973?
A: Yes
Q: Were you there on Monday 1st October 1973?
A: Yes.
Q: And do you still say that you have no knowledge that Raffaele’s coat was found in the kitchen of his home after he was found dead?
A: I don’t know.
Q: If Raffaele was wearing that coat when he was served with the lemonade and beer at the Waggon Wheel Hotel on Thursday 27th September, can you tell me any way it could get back into his house if he did not return to the house or leave the coat in your car?
A: I can’t answer that.
Q: When you were last spoken to by the Police, you did not say anything about seeing Francesca going to the school at the time you arrived back at your sister’s place. Can you tell us why you did not say this before?
A: Probably I forgot.
Q: We interviewed your sister Grazzia here today and for the first time since this inquiry began, she informed us that you arrived at her home on Thursday 27th September just when Francesca was stepping into the school yard. Do you think it unusual that both you and your sister though of this incident which set the time of your return to your sister’s place?
A: No, not unusual.
Q: Would you agree that this may suggest that you and your sister Grazzia have talked about this and decided to tell the Police that the time you got back to your sister’s place on that day was just when Francesca was walking back into the school?
A: Definitely not.
Q: We have been informed that since the death of Raffaele you had a conversation with Grazzia at her house, and she ask you why you did not return to the house until two o’clock on Thursday 27th September, and you said you were buying the nails, and not to mention it to the Police. Did that conversation take place?
A: Definitely not.
Q: We have been informed that between 28 September and 4th October 1973 you were at your sister Grazzia’s home, and you were overheard to say ‘For money or anything else Calabrians will let you go, but for honour they will kill you for sure’. Did you say that?
A: Yes, I did say that.
Q: And what did you mean by that?
A: What I said.
Q: Were you suggesting that Raffaele was not killed for money or anything else, but for honour and nothing else?
A: Yes.
Q: And did Mrs Petula say ‘That’s for sure. Whoever kill him, kill him for honour and nothing else. They put a cross on him by shooting him one in the nose and one in the ear’. Did she say that?
A: I didn’t hear her say that.
Q: Did you hear anyone say that they had put a cross on Raffaele?
A: No.”

Domenico was interviewed again in November of that year:
“Q: I am now going to ask you some questions in relation to the murder of Raffaele Petula on Thursday 27th September 1973.
A: You have got the gun and you have got me. What more do you want?
Q: From our inquiries, we believe that you did not drive Petula to the St Marys Railway Station as you have previously stated, but went with him to the Waggon Wheel Hotel at St Marys. Is that right?
A: You know where I went, I am the only one Raffaele would buy lemonade for.
Q: We believe that within one hour of leaving the Petula home, you drove him to an area of bushland at Llandilo where, after hitting him over the head, you killed him by shooting him twice in the head with that gun (points to rifle on table).
A: That’s the gun all right, but I don’t want to tell you what happened until after I see my father.
Q: Were any other persons involved in the shooting of Petula?
A: I won’t answer that.
Q: Would you care to tell us why Raffaele Petula was murdered?
A: Because he is a mongrel, that’s why.
Q: What time do you say you arrived back at your sister Grazzia’s place that afternoon?
A: What did she tell you?
Q: I am not prepared to tell you what your sister told me at this time.
A: After I have seen her I will tell you.
Q: We are satisfied that you were responsible for the death of Raffaele Petula, and you will be charged with his murder. Is there anything further that you want to tell us, or any statement you wish to make before we complete this interview?
A: (long pause… Barca starts to cry). I have lost everything. My wife, my beautiful children. It would be better if the mongrel was still alive. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I am finished with it. All I want to do is go home to my family.”

A fellow Calabrian, Salvatore Manna, was called as a witness by the Crown, and gave evidence of what he said was a Calabrain custom - if a woman was dishonoured by her husband, he was liable to be killed according to a special custom, called ‘putting a cross on him’. The husband would be shot twice through the head. One bullet was to be fired through the nose, and the other through the ear, so that the path of the two bullets intersected in the skull to form a cross.

Salvatore further stated that the first responsibility to vindicate the honour of a woman rests upon her father. He was cross-examined about this:
“Q: Do you know very much about this Calabrian custom that you have mentioned?
A: Only what I have heard and been brought up with, you know.
Q: Is this something you came to know about in the first twelve years of your life in Calabria, or have you heard it among people in Australia?
A: No, well, I have been brought up in the Calabrian custom way, and what I have heard amongst Calabrians.”

Grazzia and Domenico Barca’s father Carmello lived at Llandilo, not far from where Raffaele‘s body was found, however there was no evidence at all that Mr Barca Snr was implicated in the murder.

Although the Crown case was circumstantial, the evidence, when taken together, was compelling. The ammunition under the house, the attempt to dispose of the gun, the attempt to create an alibi with the hardware receipts, the sighting of the pair at the Waggon Wheel on the afternoon of the killing, and Raffaele’s coat somehow returning to his house without him.

The defence on the other hand contended that the time of Raffaele’s death was in the evening of the 27th, according to the post mortem report, and that Domenico was at home with his family by this time and could not have committed the offence. The defence asked the jury to reject the Crown’s argument that the killing occurred in the early afternoon, and pointed to evidence of other food in Raffaele’s stomach that were not part of the luncheon meal at Domenico’s. The defence also pointed out that the man who discovered the body had been in the area at the time the Crown say the killing occurred, and had not heard any shots.

The defence also argued that the evidence could just as easily point to Domenico’s father Carmello Barca having killed Raffaele, particularly in light of the Calabrian custom. Domenico was merely hiding the gun and ammo for his father.

It emerged during the course of the trial that Carmello Barca had in fact shot and killed a Mr Perri, the first husband of his daughter Grazzia Petula. Apparently he had also been incensed at Raffaele’s behaviour, and had threatened him on more than one occasion with dire physical consequences.

The defence suggested that after lunch, and a drink together on Thursday, Domenico had in fact driven his brother-in-law Raffaele to his father Carmello’s house and left him there, returning to Grazzia’s house.

Grazzia Petula initiall maintained that Domenico had returned to her house at 1pm that day. However, at the trial, she admitted that he had not in fact returned until around 3pm. She said that she had earlier given a false statement because Carmello Barca, her father, had threatened to stab her if she did not.

Nonetheless the trial judge directed the jury that there was absolutely no evidence that the father had been involved, despite the submissions of defence counsel, and that even if he had encouraged his son to follow out the Calabrian honour killing, this did not absolve Domenico’s guilt, as the mere executioner.

Domenico did not give evidence at his trial, but made a short statement from the dock:
“There are some things with reference to this case that I do not want to say. What I do want to say is that I did not see Raffaele Petula alive after Thursday. I did not kill him or take any part in his killing. I personally do not follow this custom, this Calabrian custom, to kill for honour. I cannot say anything else in reference to this, but please believe me, I am not guilty. That is all.”

The jury convicted and Domenico was sentenced to life. He immediately appealed his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which dismissed it. He took his appeal further, to the High Court.

The High Court felt the trial judge was wrong to tell the jury that there was absolutely no evidence that Carmello Barca had been involved. Whilst it was correct that Carmello himself was not on trial, there was in fact some circumstantial evidence that pointed to his involvement, at the very least. Whilst the High Court acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to charge Carmello with Raffaele’s murder, there was enough to put a reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury as to whether Domenico had in fact shot his brother-in-law. It would certainly go a long way to explaining Raffaele’s rather cryptic statements about what he could tell, and what he could not.

The High Court quashed Domenico’s conviction.

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