Liam Jurrah enters the court, with Jon Tippet QC at his side.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Counsel for Liam Jurrah this morning attempted to explore the family dispute that may lie behind the events of March 7 last year at Little Sisters Camp, during which it is alleged the former star footballer caused serious harm to his cousin, Basil Jurrah.
Jon Tippet QC tried to ask witness Freda Jurrah, Liam Jurrah’s aunty, about the reason for the trouble. Was it between the Watson and Walker-Granites families? Yes. Was it caused by the death of Kwementyaye Watson? Yes. The Watson family were upset with the Walker-Granite families because they “blamed them” for the death of Kwementyaye Watson? No answer.
Mr Tippet began to rephrase his question but the witness indicated, with frustration, that she had understood, then spoke in a low voice to the Warlpiri interpreter who relayed: “She can understand but she doesn’t want to tell you.”
Trouble about ‘something else’
Mr Tippet returned to the matter, putting to her that the Watson family were saying that the Walker-Granites family “murdered” Kwementyaye Watson. “Not correct,” Freda Jurrah answered. The trouble was about “something else”, she said.
Trial judge Chief Justice Trevor Riley received a note from a juror concerned about possible influence on Ms Jurrah’s evidence on this “culturally sensitive” matter from someone in the back of the courtroom. The juror suggested that the courtroom be cleared should this happen again. CJ Riley said he has the power to clear the courtroom but he would only exercise it if absolutely necessary. He said he was looking at the back of the courtroom during questioning and didn’t see anything.
Ms Jurrah had later agreed with Mr Tippet’s proposition that the Watson family and Walker-Granites families are “enemies”. But when she spoke to Christopher Walker, who had arrived at the camp, she said she told him: “We’re not enemy, you can’t fight here, go to Hidden Valley [town camp].”
Ms Jurrah, who told the court, “I never tasted grog in my life”, said Mr Walker was holding “a little axe” by his side when she spoke to him. After police came and went, he returned to the camp together with Dennis Nelson, Liam Jurrah, Sarah Singleton and a boy of about 14 years. They were running towards House One, she said. It was dark – there were no lights on, except inside House One. She saw Liam Jurrah had something in his hands but she didn’t “recognise it”. She indicated a length of about 60 cm. She said she told Liam Jurrah not to fight but he told her to “stay away”. She said the group had a fight inside House One but she didn’t see it, she was watching other people and trying to stop them from fighting.
She didn’t see Basil Jurrah arrive or do anything; she only saw when he was lying down on the ground and the ambulance came for him.
Axes used to smash car
Her grandson, Lemiah Woods, also gave evidence this morning. He has known Liam Jurrah since “Yuendumu [a western desert community], when we were kids”. In his evidence he put a crowbar in the hands of Liam Jurrah. He said Christopher Walker was holding an axe, Dennis Nelson, “a big nulla nulla”, Josiah Fry, “a big crowbar”, and Sarah Singleton “a big stick”. He had a fight with Dennis Nelson but it was “fist to fist”.
He said Dennis Nelson and Liam Jurrah had smashed the windshield and back window of a car belonging to his father, Murray Woods. He said it was done with an axe. Who had an axe? “Both.” Later, when the group returned for a second time, he said they were throwing rocks. This time Liam Jurrah had “an axe and a big stick”.
Under cross-examination by Mr Tippet, Lemiah Woods said he’d been drinking “down the creek” that afternoon and described himself as “just half shot”. Mr Tippet asked him if later he was carrying a weapon. He said yes, a stick. Mr Tippet put it to him that it was really a crowbar. He agreed, speaking through the interpreter, that he and Samuel White had “swapped weapons” and that when he went to fight he had a crowbar.
After initially saying that people arriving from Hidden Valley were not carrying weapons, Mr Woods also admitted that he saw Basil Jurrah with a machete and that others had nulla nullas, sticks and axes.
The trial continues.
Day One: The Crown outlines its case; the Defence responds.
By KIERAN FINNANE
The Liam Jurrah case involves “two groups of people who don’t like one another very much” and one person who stands “head and shoulders above them all”. The “primary issue” is not what people say he did, but what he actually did.
So said Jon Tippet QC, counsel for the former Melbourne Demons’ football star who is being tried in the Supreme Court in Alice Springs, accused of unlawfully causing serious harm to Basil Jurrah. Liam Jurrah has pleaded “not guilty” to the charge.
Crown Prosecutor Stephen Robson outlined for the jury what he anticipates they will hear from witnesses. One after the other, the seven people gathered at House Number One at Little Sisters Camp on the night of March 7 last year – a Wednesday – are expected to place the accused among a group arriving at the camp around 10pm, intent on fighting.
These seven are aligned with the Watson family; Liam Jurrah and his group on the night, with the Walker-Granites families. Mr Robson said the circumstances of the dispute between the two Warlpiri family groups is not relevant to the case, other than as the source of friction between them.
After initial fighting broke out, the police were called and the visitors dispersed only to return later. Reinforcements arrived on the other side, among them Basil Jurrah, cousin of Liam. It is the Crown case that both Liam Jurrah and another man, Christopher Walker, were involved in the assault on Basil Jurrah. Mr Robson told the jury not to speculate as to why Mr Walker is not on trial with Liam Jurrah – it’s “not unusual” for separate proceedings to occur, he said.
Axe or nulla nulla?
The court will hear evidence from the House Number One witnesses of Liam Jurrah being armed and of him fighting with other people before the alleged assault on Basil Jurrah. Some will say they saw him chasing Basil Jurrah around the back of the house; one will say she saw him hit Basil Jurrah twice on the head; some will say Liam Jurrah earlier hit them; some put an axe in his hands, others a nulla nulla.
Witnesses arriving at the camp after hearing of the fighting, including the victim himself, are also expected to tell the court that they saw Liam Jurrah hit Basil Jurrah, who was taken to hospital in the early hours of the morning. There will be medical evidence that he suffered four lacerations to the scalp, a fracture to the top of the skull and facial fractures including to the eye-socket and nose.
The court will also watch the electronic record of the police interview with Liam Jurrah. The accused told police that he had weapons for self-defence, said Mr Robson, but that when he saw Basil lying on the ground he threw them down and started to push people away from the victim, saying that he was his cousin. He also saw a younger cousin, a boy, bleeding. He had gone to the camp to try to stop this boy getting involved.
In the police interview Mr Jurrah was essentially making himself out to be an “innocent by-stander”, said Mr Robson, but the Crown will argue that he was lying “in consciousness of his own guilt”.
Mr Robson also told the jury that the Crown does not have to prove that Mr Jurrah struck a particular blow causing a particular harm. If he did not strike such a blow, he aided Mr Walker in doing so and this could be a basis for guilt. A further potential basis of guilt is the formation of “common purpose” with one or more others to harm people in Little Sisters Camp.
Mr Robson said the Crown cannot say “with precision” what kind of weapon was used in the assault. Whether it was a machete, a nulla nulla or an axe, it was capable of inflicting the injuries sustained.
Dark and frantic
He referred briefly to the circumstances of the events – it was night, things were happening at a “frantic” pace – and told the jury to use their common sense in assessing the evidence. Mr Tippet, however, stressed these factors as well as others, such as people being affected by alcohol, as having the potential to cast doubt on the evidence.
“It’s easy to say ‘I saw’,” he said but the “real question” is whether it is “reliable” evidence, especially when people do not like a person who is “a standout” and want to “bring him down”. He warned the jury against adding one lot of “bad evidence” to another to then reach a conclusion: “You don’t do that in life,” he said, and asked them not to do it “in this courtroom”.
“When we want someone to take the blame, we see things differently, say things differently,” he said.
He urged the jury to then look at Liam Jurrah’s record of interview, in which he was “very, very closely questioned” and “asses him in terms of reliability”.
The trial continues tomorrow.
POSTED EARLIER TODAY (at 3.49pm):
Former Melbourne Demons AFL star Liam Jurrah arrived at the Alice Springs Supreme Court at 2pm today for the start of his trial.
He walked down Hartley Street accompanied by his lawyer Jon Tippet QC, greeted by a gaggle of about 20 media reporters and photographers.
Inside the court were some 100 locals, mainly white, on the jury panel, awaiting the selection and empaneling of the group which will decide Jurrah’s fate.
There were also several Aboriginal people waiting to enter the court gallery to observe the trial.
The Alice Springs News Online is covering it and will post regular updates.