SummitCare murder trial: Garry Steven Davis's colleagues say nothing sinister about texts

THEY are the text messages that the prosecution say point to a killer.

But black humour, expressions like “comes in threes” and even predicting which aged-care resident might be next to die are commonly used in nursing homes as a “coping mechanism” to deal with the constant stress of being around death, Newcastle Supreme Court has heard. 

Aged-care nurse Garry Steven Davis, 29, is currently facing the fourth-week of a judge-alone double murder trial before Justice Robert Allan Hulme. 

He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in relation to the deaths of SummitCare Wallsend residents Gwen Fowler, 83, and Ryan Kelly, 80, who were both non-insulin dependent diabetics injected with lethal doses of insulin on October 18 and 19 of 2013. 

He has also denied the attempted murder of Ms Manuel, who managed to survive a similar attack on October 19, but was taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia and hypoglycemia. 

It is the prosecution’s circumstantial case that Mr Davis is the only person who could have injected all three residents. 

They say he had the opportunity, he knew the victims and he had the skills.

And, according to the prosecution, Mr Davis was also the only one to predict who was going to die next in a series of text messages to two colleagues. 

Those two staff members gave evidence on Wednesday, telling Justice Hulme it was not uncommon for nursing staff to use “black humour” to cope with the stress of their work.

Crown prosecutor Lee Carr took Debbie Wilson, who was an assistant in nursing at SummitCare at the time of deaths, through a text message exchange between herself and Mr Davis on October 19, 2013.

“Hey Garry, how’s Gwen?”,” Mr Carr said, reading the text message.

“The Gwen you’re referring to of course is?”

“Gwen Fowler,” Ms Wilson replied.

“One shift four would be a record for leader leader LOL”,” Mr Carr continued. 

“What are you referring to there?”

Ms Wilson explained that “leader leader” should be “team leader”, Mr Davis’s role at the aged-care facility.

She agreed with Mr Carr that she meant it would be a record for any team leader should four residents from a single unit die “one after the other”.

Mr Davis replied: “happens in three, she’s blue as but still breathing”. 

When Ms Wilson replied: ‘‘Who do you think is number 3? John S or Doris M,’’ Mr Davis replied, ‘‘Bell or Kelly’’. 

Later Mr Davis texted: ‘‘Gwen gone. Audrey number three.”

But under cross-examination from Mr Davis’s barrister, Christopher Watson, Ms Wilson said nurses dealt with death by using black humour. 

“In nursing there is a black humour,” Ms Wilson said.  

“It’s our way we deal with things every day.”

Mr Wilson agreed with Mr Watson that it could be labelled a “coping mechanism”. 

“Why would you say “LOL, laugh out loud?” Mr Watson asked Ms Wilson.

“Again, coping mechanism,” she replied. 

“It’s our way of dealing with things. “We deal with death, we deal with stress, we deal with dementia, we deal with families. “It’s just the way we cope and I don't know in any industry that you don't have a type of black humour.”

Ms Wilson said the messages in no way were meant to be disrespectful to Ms Fowler or other residents.

SummitCare Wallsend assistant in nursing Raylene Collins also texted Mr Davis on October 19, 2013, the court heard.

Mr Davis sent a text to Ms Collins saying: “Gwen NT and Audrey were sent to hospital.  Comes in three.”

When asked to explain the reference to “comes in three”, Ms Collins said: “In nursing it always comes in threes, like three deaths, and everybody says it and we all do it, and if there’s two, like two passed away recently, so everyone was trying to guess who the third was, it just happens, it just comes in threes.”

The court heard Ms Collins replied: “True, let’s hope the third is PV6”, to which he wrote back: “It’s gonna be Audrey, it was hectic”. 

Ms Collins replied: ““I can live in hope”.

Under cross-examination from Mr Watson, Ms Collins reiterated her claims about the expression “comes in three” in nursing.

“Yeah, it’s just done in nursing,” Ms Collins said. 

“Like I have other friends and even my family work as nurses and they all do it.  “We all do it.”

“So there’s nothing sinister about it?” Mr Watson asked. 

“No,” Ms Collins replied. 

“Well it was done like a week ago when two people passed away and everyone was trying to guess who the third was.”

Ms Collins said the comments in no way meant they would decrease the level of care for a resident.

“No... absolutely not,” she said.  

“You can’t do that.

“It’s just how we de-stress I guess, sometimes, because it’s a very hard job and lots of time are understaffed and it’s just, yeah, it’s just the way we communicate.”

“When it comes under the magnifying glass, like in proceedings such as this trial, it doesn’t appear very tasteful, does it?,” Mr Watson asked. 

“No, it doesn’t,” Ms Wilson replied.

The court was also played sections of Mr Davis’s lengthy police interview on Tuesday, in which he questioned about a number of scenarios that could have occurred. He agreed it was unlikely any of the residents would have injected themselves or each other and couldn’t nominate any one else he worked for who would have done it.

The prosecution is expected to call its last witness on Wednesday. 

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