Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The trial for the alleged murder of Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker will be delayed after a High Court application was granted to the prosecution on Monday, which allows the case to be stayed pending a legal challenge.
Walker, 19, was fatally shot in Yuendumu, 266km northwest of Mparntwe/Alice Springs, Northern Territory, in November 2019 when police attempted to arrest him for breaching a community corrections order.
NT police officer Zachary Rolfe has been charged with murder and two alternative charges; manslaughter and engaging in a violent act causing death. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The trial was set to begin on Monday after the NT Supreme Court refused the prosecution’s application to delay.
The prosecution wanted to delay the trial until after the High Court heard their appeal of a recent Full Court of the Supreme Court decision related to Rolfe’s defence.
The Supreme Court decision would allow Rolfe’s lawyers to argue three defences, including one hinging on a provision in the Police Administration Act 1978 (NT) that exempts police from liability if they were performing a duty “in good faith”.
The prosecution elevated the matter to the High Court and applied for leave to appeal against the Supreme Court decision. The High Court has now granted the trial be stayed until after the application is heard on September 10.
If upheld, the Supreme Court decision would mean the trial would come down to the question of whether Rolfe was acting “in good faith” as a police officer in the three seconds when he fired the fatal shots.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, prosecutor Philip Strickland argued the decision being upheld would allow very broad exemption from liability for police.
“Because if it is correct, a police officer could shoot a suspect dead and avoid criminal liability under section 148B if a jury finds a reasonable possibility he was — in good faith — performing a core function,” he said.
Crown prosecutors have accepted that Rolfe fired the first, non-fatal bullet during the arrest, exempting him from liability for that shot.
The trial will hinge on whether the prosecution can convince the jury that the fatal second and third shots, fired just over three seconds later, were unnecessary.
Once it begins, the trial is expected to run over three weeks.
By Sarah Smit