BENJAMIN Batterham will face a murder trial over the death of burglar Ricky Slater-Dickson after a magistrate found he “crossed a line” from a reasonable, lawful response to finding an intruder inside his home to a “violent and angry” retaliation that included a desire to exact “punishment and retribution”.
Mr Batterham had faced a four-day contested committal hearing in Newcastle Local Court, which had focused primarily on the cause of death of Mr Slater-Dickson, who was chased, held down and repeatedly punched in the head after breaking into Mr Batterham’s Cleary Street, Hamilton home in the early hours of March 26, 2016.
Mr Batterham’s defence, led by barrister Winston Terracini, SC, had submitted there was insufficient evidence for him to be committed for trial for murder, saying that he was entitled to pursue and apprehend Mr Slater-Dickson and that he did not intend to cause him grievous bodily harm.
Causation was the issue the hearing had hoped to resolve, but there was no definitive cause of death determined.
Six medical experts – including cardiologists, forensic pathologists and clinical toxicologists – differed as to the degree that the violent struggle, which included Mr Slater-Dickson being placed in a “choke-hold”, the potentially “toxic” level of methylamphetamine he had in his system, his obesity or pre-existing heart condition had played in causing his death.
But ultimately Magistrate David Price found there was sufficient evidence for a jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Batterham’s “violent conduct” was at the very least a significant cause of the death of Mr Slater-Dickson.
After Mr Price determined that Mr Batterham should be committed for trial, the 34-year-old was asked if he had anything to say. “I am not guilty,” Mr Batterham began, reading from notes.
“I never intended to cause [Mr Slater-Dickson] any serious harm. He broke into my house and stole my wife's property and was at the entrance of my young daughter’s bedroom when I found him. I rang the police. I was calling for him to stop. I admit I was angry, that I hit him. But I was only trying to keep him from getting away until the police arrived. He was constantly struggling and violently fighting against me. He bit me on the right arm. I regret that he has died and I have to live with that forever.”
Once Mr Price had determined that Mr Batterham had a case to answer, the question became what charge he should face in a higher court.
Acting Crown prosecutor Paul Rosser, QC, pressed that he should be committed for trial on the murder charge, while Mr Terracini disagreed.
“No reasonable jury, having heard all the facts, would convict of murder and he should be committed for trial for manslaughter,” Mr Terracini said.
Mr Price said that, despite their being a number of contributing factors to Mr Slater-Dickson’s death, including methylamphetamine and his poor state of health, Mr Batterham “escalated the situation” from a reasonable response to an intruder being discovered in his home to an “angry and violent situation”, where he was “enraged” and wanted to “exact some form of punishment and retribution”.
“Fundamentally it appears to me that there is a significant amount of evidence that at some point in this interaction between the accused and the deceased…. the accused has crossed a line,” Mr Price said.
“It is my view that there is a significant amount of evidence that if presented to a jury that was properly instructed there is a reasonable prospect that the jury would conclude that the defendant intended to inflict grievous bodily harm on the deceased and that also his actions did, to the requisite degree, cause the death of the deceased.
“Therefore I must commit him for trial on the charge of murder.”
The decision was met with thunderous applause from the public gallery, where members of Mr Slater-Dickson’s family, including his mother Beryl Dickson, had sat and listened to four days of evidence.
Outside court, Ms Dickson described the development as was a “win” for Mr Slater-Dickson and his family.
Mr Batterham will next appear in Sydney Supreme Court on November 2 where he will be arraigned and get a trial date in Newcastle Supreme Court sometime next year.
The back-up charge of recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm, laid before Mr Slater-Dickson’s death in hospital on March 27, 2016, will be withdrawn.