The defence and prosecution in the case of a Northern Territory police officer charged with murder are in dispute about the witness list for a committal hearing scheduled for September.
- Constable Zachary Rolfe appeared at today’s hearing in the Alice Springs local court via audio link
- The prosecution and defence are debating the potential witness list for the committal hearing
- Judge John Birch will hand down his decision on the witnesses on Thursday August, 20.
Constable Zachary Rolfe is charged with murder in relation to the shooting death of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker in the remote community of Yuendumu in November 2019.
In a hearing in the Alice Springs Local Court today, the defence and prosecution in the case put forward arguments relating to witnesses in the committal hearing.
Mr Rolfe attended via audio link from Canberra.
In court today, Crown prosecutor Philip Strickland outlined why he objected to several angles the defence wanted to pursue when cross-examining certain witnesses, including several doctors and police officers, stating it was a matter of relevance.
Objections included concerns over lines of questioning towards police officers who were not present on the night of the shooting about what training they’d had, and what knowledge there was of Kumanjayi Walker’s alleged “previous violent disposition”.
Defence counsel David Edwardson argued that even though the officers were not present during the shooting, the cross-examination of them was essential because their evidence would give relevant insight into what might be expected of a police officer “when confronted with a blade”.
Mr Edwardson said defence wanted more clarity about one police officer’s knowledge of an incident days before the shooting where Kumanjayi Walker allegedly threatened police with an axe during a separate arrest attempt.
But Mr Strickland argued there was already an “abundance of evidence” in the prosecution’s brief from other witnesses regarding the “axe incident”.
Mr Edwardson also defended his wish to cross-examine the officers about what knowledge there was of Mr Walker’s possible alleged involvement in damaging the Yuendumu medical centre sometime before the shooting, resulting in medical staff being evacuated.
Prosecutor Philip Strickland said any possible evidence from the officers regarding the “medical centre incident” would be hearsay and therefore not admissible in trial.
“[The defence suggests] it provides a motive for the deceased to evade arrest, but there is no material [evidence] that [the witness] has any direct knowledge in relation to that” Mr Strickland said.
“It is, with respect, a fishing expedition to try and link the deceased to the ransacking of the medical centre.”
Defence counsel also argued for the need to cross-examine several medical witnesses about the position of Mr Walker’s right arm at the time of the shooting, and whether it had the potential to inflict a “vital wound” with a pair of scissors that he was allegedly holding.
Mr Strickland responded, stating that those witnesses giving evidence about whether the deceased was a “direct threat” to police was opinion, not fact.
“That opinion is not based on any specialised knowledge, it’s based upon observing a body-worn video … [the witness’s] opinion on that is as good as any other person’s,” he said.
Disputes over other witnesses were resolved today.
Judge John Birch will hand down his decision on the final witness list on Thursday, August 20, ahead of the committal hearing which is due to begin on September 1.
Judge Birch confirmed Mr Rolfe would appear via video link from Canberra for the committal hearing, due to biosecurity concerns related to COVID-19.
However, Mr Strickland, who was in Sydney for Friday’s hearing and appeared via phone, said he would be appearing in person at the committal hearing, as he had been given an exemption to mandatory quarantine by the chief medical officer of the NT.