THEY had spent 37 years together, including the last two-and-half on the road travelling Australia, when Graeme Wilton left his beloved wife, Marlene, for an innocent early evening walk at the southern end of Lake Macquarie.
By the night’s end, Mr Wilton was comatose in intensive care. Within two months, he was dead - the victim of a road rage attack where a trained martial arts exponent got out of his car and punched the 56-year-old to the ground before leaving with a burnout next to his victim’s unconscious body and in full view of witnesses.
On Wednesday, and as her husband’s killer sat just metres away at his sentencing hearing for manslaughter, Mrs Wilton looked at Kaine Geoffrey Jones and bravely told the world of her loss.
“Everyday I find it hard to escape so many reminders of what I have lost,’’ Mrs Wilton said.
“Oh how I miss the man who held my hand for 37 years and told me constantly how much he loved me.
“I miss waking up next to him every morning when we had our early coffee in bed discussing what our plans were for the day.
“My heart aches when I see couples talking intimately or laughing together, seeing caravaners on the road enjoying “my lifestyle”, professional cyclists out training, couples on motorbikes.
“The life I knew and loved has now completely gone.’’
Mrs Wilton had stayed back at a Mannering Park caravan park on December 12, 2013, to pack up after the couple had spent four days as part of their trip around Australia.
Mr Wilton went for a walk, the same walk he had done in the days previous.
Jones, who lived nearby, had been working on the hotted-up utility owned by his fiance and decided to go for a drive.
The car, fitted with a turbo charger, could be heard by residents as he drove it down Griffith Street about 7.30pm.
Witnesses would tell of hearing the car’s tyres lock up and the vehicle stop next to Mr Wilton, before seeing the older man thump his palms on the bonnet.
“It wasn’t aggressive. It was more of a whoa,’’ one resident told a committal hearing.
Mr Wilton walked past the driver’s door and continued along the road.
Jones began to drive off before stopping the car about 30 metres away, get out and confront Mr Wilton.
An agreed statement of facts said a witness told of watching Mr Wilton with his hands by his sides when Jones punched him to the jaw with his left fist.
“The deceased’s head went back and he was instantly knocked out and fell straight back without attempting to break his fall,’’ the facts said.
“The deceased’s head hit the road making a noise that [the witness] described as “terrible’’.’’
Another witness said Jones looked at an unconscious Mr Wilton before walking back to his car and looking up at the witnesses.
“[Jones] got into the vehicle and did what [a witness] described as a “big burnout’’...,’’ the facts said.
Mr Wilton briefly regained consciousness before his condition deteriorated and he was taken from Wyong to Royal North Shore Hospital.
He died on February 10.
In her courageous victims’ impact statement which she read to the court on Wednesday, Mrs Wilton said she had found herself in a place “completely foreign to me” and found herself with a “strange apprehensiveness, I feel somewhat fragile and extremely weary’’.
She was firm when she told the court it was “unacceptable to our society to take it upon oneself to assault another person’’ and told of the loneliness and sadness she now felt was immeasurable.
“I miss his insight, his fun and wit and unique personality,’’ she said.
“I think of him every minute of the day.
“I struggle with the reality of never being able to laugh with him again.
“I think of how in love we were and how special that was and now there is nothing, my life has been halved.’’
Mrs Wilton also spoke of how she had to leave her home to “escape memories and torment’’ and sought professional help to help her with insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks “whilst I face confusion and relentless pain’’.
She told the court of the “vivid memories’’ by her comatose husband’s side and of seeing him with a “no bone” sign on his forehead after it was removed in an effort to relieve pressure and swelling on his brain.
“I have been debilitated with grief. No human being deserves such a death. To die for so little gain does not make sense.’’
The agreed facts said that immediately after the incident, Jones drove to a friend’s house and told him he had “just hit a bloke down the road. The guy tried to stop me. I got out of the car. The guy was in my face and I hit him’’.’
In the following days, Jones altered the appearance of the ute by removing a sticker from the back window and removing a black plastic covering on the roof, changing it from black to white.
Four days later, police approached Jones and accused him of being involved. He told them the car belonged to his fiance and “made no mention of his involvement’’.
By January, police were monitoring Jones’ mobile phone after he had left Mannering Point for Coonabarabran following the breakdown of his relationship.
After hearing his former partner had told police she was the owner of the utility but didn’t know who was driving it when it was involved in the incident with Mr Wilton, Jones told her: “you’ve just f---ed my whole life...I f---ing told you what to say when it happened’’.
He also told his mother in another call: “might as well go and f---ing own up to it with all these c---s dobbing me in’’.
Jones walked into Coonabarabran police station the following day – 36 after the incident – and was arrested.
He told police he was the person who had punched Mr Wilton, that his car was really loud and “[Mr Wilton] was obviously angry that I went past him with the loud car...I’m assuming’’.
“The offender, when talking to police, falsely sought to paint the deceased as the aggressor in the incident,’’ the facts said.
“He also told police that he was “pissed off” that the deceased had spoken to him about his manner of driving as he passed the driver’s side window.
“Also in the interview the offender asked police to tell the deceased’s family he was sorry and stated: “I wish I could trade positions with him’’.
Mr Wilton died 24 days after Jones was arrested.
“Graeme loved life and everything it had to offer. He embraced all opportunities and achieved many things during his life. He was a people’s person who people loved,’’ Mrs Wilton told the court.
“The emotional impact of his death has been enormous as I come to terms with what has now taken my best friend of 37 years, who understood everything about me and lived to give me the most amazing life with his very generous disposition.
“Graeme embodied everything I could ever ask for in a husband along with his sense of humour and unquenchable love of life and adventure.’’
Jones was due to face a murder trial on Monday before his guilty plea to Mr Wilton’s manslaughter was accepted by prosecutors.
Outside court, Mrs Wilton said: “It has taken him three years to admit his guilt to this matter. I am quite happy with the outcome and I look forward to His Honour handing down his sentence.’’
The sentencing hearing with continue next month.