Veteran country postmaster John Burke’s death in hospital allegedly resulted from a service station attack almost three months earlier, a jury has been told.
This week, a Victorian Supreme Court trial began after Troy Maskell, 44, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter over Mr Burke’s death.
Outlining the case, crown prosecutor Stephanie Clancy said Mr Burke lived alone behind the post office and would often go to the local service station at odd hours for a meal and a chat with the friendly attendants.
She said on one of these regular visits, the postmaster was set upon in a “shameful” attack after he was falsely accused of being a paedophile.
The jury were told he died almost 250km away in Melbourne on October 26, 2021, after his condition deteriorated during an 11-week hospital stint.
His lawyers told the jury there was no dispute Mr Maskell injured the 74-year-old on August 8 two years ago, but argued the attack did not cause his death.
“His actions, while shameful, stupid, unlawful and whatever else you might want to call them, did not cause Mr Burke’s death,” defence barrister Julia Munster said.
The jury were told Mr Burke had attended the Strathmerton petrol station about 12.40am and was inside chatting with attendant Brenton North for about 10 minutes before a white ute pulled up outside.
A short time later, Mr Maskell’s partner, Fiona Taylor, entered the shop with the couple’s 10-year-old daughter.
Mr North told the court Ms Taylor was behaving erratically and he “wanted to serve them and get them out of the shop” as soon as possible.
When Mr Burke greeted the young girl, smiling and saying something like; “how are youse”, Ms Taylor accused him of being a paedophile.
“She said he was looking at the girl, John just seemed shocked by it all,” Mr North said.
When Mr Maskell entered the store, Mr North said he asked Mr Burke, “Do we have a problem here?”
He told the court Mr Burke replied, “No, we don’t have a problem”.
Captured on CCTV cameras, a few seconds later Mr Maskell picked up a 1L bottle of Maximus Isotonic sports drink and threw it at Mr Burke’s head.
The throw was followed by a kick to Mr Burke’s hip, which caused the elderly man to fall to the hard tile floor.
Mr North said after the family left he checked on Mr Burke, who was conscious but in pain.
Giving evidence before the jury, Senior Constable Nicole Sooriarachchi said she arrived about 1.30am after receiving an emergency dispatch.
She told the court Mr Burke was alert and conversational but complained about a pain to his hip and she noticed blood pooling in his left ear.
He was taken by ambulance to Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton, where doctors found he had suffered a subdural haematoma on the left side of his brain and fractured pelvis.
Later the same morning he was transferred to Melbourne where, days later his condition deteriorated as staff noticed the haematoma increased in size and he had suffered a new brain bleed.
Prosecutors, led by Stephanie Clancy, said the crown would allege Mr Maskell’s attack was a “substantial or significant” cause of Mr Burke’s death.
She said the prosecution would argue a reasonable person would know Mr Maskell’s actions were dangerous.
Ms Munster said the “two fundamental issues” in the trial was whether the assault was objectively dangerous and if it caused Mr Burke’s death.
“The real question is whether Mr Maskell is responsible for the death,” she said.
“The defence case is those acts were not objectively dangerous.”
The trial continues.