Lawyers acting for a dad accused of killing an elderly man in a random attack, caught on CCTV, have called on a jury to find his death was “independent” of the “shameful” assault.
Troy Maskell, 44, is facing a manslaughter trial in the Victorian Supreme Court over the death of John Burke, 73, in October 2021.
Mr Burke, a veteran postmaster in the northern Victorian town of Strathmerton, died in hospital almost three months after he was assaulted by Mr Maskell at his local service station.
Delivering her closing address on Thursday, Crown prosecutor Stephanie Clancy asked the jury to find Mr Maskell guilty, saying they should have no difficulty linking Mr Burke’s death to the attack.
Outlining the alleged circumstances, she said Mr Burke had stopped into his local service station just before 1am on August 8 for a friendly chat with the attendants – as he “often” used to do.
About 10 minutes later, Mr Maskell’s then partner, Fiona Taylor, entered the shop with the couple’s 10-year-old daughter.
When Mr Burke greeted the young girl, smiling and saying something like “how are youse”, an “erratic” Ms Taylor accused him of being a pedophile.
A short time later, Ms Clancy said, Mr Maskell entered the store and “developed an intense hostility towards Mr Burke”.
He picked up a 1 litre bottle of Maximus Isotonic and threw it at the elderly man’s head, following up with a kick to the left hip that caused Mr Burke to fall to the hard tile floor.
Describing the attack as “gratuitous violence”, Ms Clancy said CCTV of the incident depicted Mr Maskell standing over Mr Burke and berating him before he was dragged away.
The jury was told Mr Burke remained conscious following the assault but began exhibiting signs of “brain bleeding” hours later on the way to hospital.
He was taken to Goulburn Valley Health in Shepparton where staff found he was suffering from a 13mm deep subdural haematoma on the left side of his brain and a fractured pelvis.
A decision was made to take him to specialists in Melbourne later the same day; however, over the following week his condition deteriorated.
Mr Burke was placed in palliative care on October 16 after suffering significant brain damage and died 10 days later.
Ms Clancy told the jury the Crown case was that Mr Maskell’s attack was a “significant and substantial” cause of Mr Burke’s 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,” she 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.”
Delivering her closing address, Mr Maskell’s barrister Julia Munster said while Mr Burke’s death was “undeniably sad”, the defence’s case was the assault did not cause his death.
“That footage shows Mr Maskell behaving badly, there’s no question about that,” she said.
“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.”
Ms Munster said there were two critical differences between the prosecution and defence cases that the jury would have to decide: Were Mr Maskell’s actions dangerous and did they result in Mr Burke’s death?
She said while her client’s actions were “distasteful, shameful and unlawful”, the jury had to examine the facts intellectually and not jump to conclusions.
Ms Munster told the jury the medical experts called to give evidence during the trial were unable to rule out a coincidence or exclude Mr Burke’s underlying health conditions.
“We submit the medical evidence raises reasonable doubt as to whether acts caused death,” she said.
“When one thing happens after the other they look related at first, but they may not be.”
The trial continues.