A jury has found a Melbourne dad should be held responsible for the death of an elderly man months after attacking him with a sports drink in a service station over false paedophile claims.
Troy Maskell, 44, had been facing trial accused of causing the death of postmaster John Burke, 73, almost three months after an assault on August 8, 2021.
On Monday, jurors returned before the Victorian Supreme Court after indicating they had reached a verdict following about eight hours of deliberation.
The foreperson, a young man wearing a light blue collared shirt, told the court the jury of 12 had reached a unanimous verdict of guilty on a charge of manslaughter.
Maskell reacted with a slight nod, his eyes fixed forward, as a member of Mr Burke’s family, who sat quietly throughout the trial, energetically reacted, leaning forward with her hands in prayer position.
Over the course of the trial, the jury was told Maskell accepted his “shameful” attack on Mr Burke which occurred after his then-partner, Fiona Taylor, falsely accused the elderly man of being a paedophile.
The couple had stopped at a Shell service station in Strathmerton, a country town in Victoria’s north, with their 10-year-old daughter about 12.50am.
Mr Burke, who would often go into the service station at odd hours for a meal and chat with the attendants, smiled at the young girl and said something like; “how are youse”, before Ms Taylor confronted him.
Captured on CCTV cameras, 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.
Hours after the attack, in hospital, medical staff identified a subdural haematoma, or brain bleed, on the left side of Mr Burke’s brain.
His condition deteriorated and, following the discovery of a blood clot in his lung which led to complications, his family were forced to make the difficult decision to end treatment.
Mr Burke was in palliative care on October 16 and died 10 days later.
The jury were told there was no suggestion his medical treatment was “anything other than optimum”, with prosecutors arguing the attack was a “substantial and significant” cause of his death.
“While Mr Burke had underlying health conditions that made him more susceptible to death … a killing is no less of a crime if the victim was vulnerable,” crown prosecutor Stephanie Clancy said.
“Everything that happened in the lead up to Mr Burke’s death was a consequence of the assault in the petrol station on August 8.”
In her closing address, Maskell’s barrister Julie Munster had argued the “temporal link” between the assault and Mr Burke’s death could have been a coincidence.
She pointed to medical evidence of Mr Burke’s “life-threatening” underlying health conditions, most notably cerebral amyloid angiopathy which increases the risk of brain bleeds forming spontaneously.
“You know he assaulted Mr Burke … Our submission is that Mr Maskell did not cause the brain injuries and so did not cause Mr Burke’s death,” she said.
Two conflicting explanations of Mr Burke’s death from medical experts were provided to the jury, with the prosecution‘s expert, Dr Yeliena Baber, finding he died from intracranial haemorrhages caused by blunt force trauma.
This finding was challenged by a defence witness, forensic pathologist Professor Johan Duflou, who said he could not determine a mechanism for the bleeding.
He suggested it was possible Mr Burke’s death occurred independent of the assault.
Justice Lex Lasry thanked the jury for their contribution to the justice system and committed service throughout the trial.
Mr Maskell will return to court at a later date.