Lawyers make final stand in trial of WA police officer accused of Yamatji woman's murder

Lawyers have delivered their closing arguments in the WA Supreme Court trial of a police officer charged with murder for fatally shooting an Aboriginal woman.

Francis Clarke (left) youngest sister, and Bernadette Clarke (centre), eldest sister of Yamatji woman 'JC'.

Francis Clarke (left) youngest sister, and Bernadette Clarke (centre), eldest sister of Yamatji woman 'JC'. Source: AAP

This article contains an image of an Aboriginal woman who has died and references to suicide.

Lawyers made their final appeals in Western Australia's Supreme Court on Thursday, before a jury decides whether a police officer who fatally shot an Aboriginal woman is guilty of murder.

The 29-year-old Yamatji mother-of-one, now known by her initials JC at the family's request, was shot and killed by a police officer on a suburban street in Geraldton on 17 September 2019, after reports that she was seen carrying a knife. 

The officer, who cannot be named under a court order protecting his identity, was subsequently charged and has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder.

Nearing the end of a three week trial, the accused’s lawyer Linda Black told the jury during her closing address on Thursday that her client killed JC in self-defence.

“It is so easy to sit in a courtroom and make judgements about what [the police officer] should and shouldn’t have done,” Ms Black said.

Police are seen outside the District Court of West Australia, in Perth.
Source: AAP

“Clearly, [JC] was a ticking time bomb and no one knows when that bomb was going to explode”.

The accused claims that JC raised a knife and was preparing to lunge at him the moment that he shot her.

The next closest officer to JC at the moment she was shot, First Class Constable Dillon McLean also told the trial during his evidence that JC raised the knife, as did three other members of the public.

Ms Black dismissed CCTV footage taken from a home 65 metres away, which the prosecution says shows that JC did not move before she was shot, as unreliable. 

But the prosecution argued that the accused’s account that JC raised the knife towards him simply never happened, and that he unlawfully and unjustifiably took her life.

“[JC] didn’t thrust the knife, she didn’t make a movement, she turned to face [the accused] and three seconds later he shot her,” state prosecutor Amanda Forrester SC told the jury in her closing address on Thursday.

“The state says that movement did not happen and the accused is not telling the truth about why he shot her. “

Ms Forrester said that the accused unnecessarily escalated the situation, that he ran towards JC with his gun drawn, and fired his weapon only 16 seconds after getting out of his vehicle.

She told the jury that the accused should have relied on the support and experience of the seven other officers at the scene, including First Class Constable McLean who had drawn his Taser and was next to the accused, and Senior Constable Adrian Barker who was approaching JC unarmed in an attempt to talk to her.

“You’d think that the combined force of eight police officers would be enough to deal with a lone 29-year-old woman, even one armed with a knife and small pair of scissors as she walked down the road,” Ms Forrester said.

“But the accused’s actions that day completely deprived himself and his colleagues of every strategic and tactical advantage that they had, and it resulted in him tragically killing [a mentally disturbed woman].”

During the trial, the jury heard Senior Constable Barker describe how he knew JC and had assisted her to hospital for psychiatric assessment only 10 days prior to her fatal shooting, after she told police she was suicidal. 

On the night of the shooting, Geraldton police were called to Petchell Street in Rangeway at around 6:20pm, after a member of the public reported seeing JC walking nearby carrying a knife.

JC was shot and killed by a police officer on a suburban street in Geraldton in September 2019.
Source: AAP

Two police officers in one vehicle arrived at the scene and told JC to drop the knife or she would be tasered.

JC ignored the command and continued walking away from the officers along Petchell street, as six other officers, including the accused, arrived in three vehicles.

Ms Forrester said that JC was given only one minute and 17 seconds between that first order to drop the knife before she was shot by the accused.

“No one will ever know if given time to process the situation that she was in, whether she would have dropped the knife,” Ms Forrester said.

Ms Black said that JC was angry and agitated that day, that the Yamatji woman was unpredictable and had a history of violence, including towards police officers.

The twelve members of the jury have heard both sides provide evidence and heard from over 60 witnesses since the trial began.

On Friday morning, they will be given instruction by Supreme Court Justice Robert Mitchell and sent away to deliver a verdict.

If the jury finds that the accused did kill JC unlawfully, but that he did not intend to kill her, he can be found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, visit lifeline.org.au or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. Resources for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found at Headspace: Yarn Safe.

 


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Published 21 October 2021 at 10:01pm
By Aaron Fernandes
Source: SBS News