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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Nino Bucci Justice and courts reporter

News Corp journalist offered to write article defending Zachary Rolfe two days after he shot Kumanjayi Walker dead, court hears

Zachary Rolfe leaving the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker
Zachary Rolfe lost his bid to avoid answering questions about the events of 9 November 2019 at the inquest into Kumanjayi Walker’s death. Photograph: Aaron Bunch/AAP

A journalist at the Australian told Zachary Rolfe only two days after he shot and killed Kumanjayi Walker that she could “write an article in your defence” because “I know what you did was totally warranted”, a court has heard.

Journalist Kristin Shorten, who Rolfe said was a friend because her partner was a fellow police officer, texted Rolfe in November 2019 asking if he was OK after the incident and telling him to “ignore the leftist reporting”, the inquest into Walker’s death heard on Wednesday.

Rolfe shot Walker three times while trying to arrest him in Yuendumu, about 300km from Alice Springs. The 19-year-old Warlpiri man stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors shortly before he was shot by the then constable three times.

Rolfe was found not guilty in March 2022 of charges of murder and manslaughter relating to Walker’s death.

Rolfe is giving evidence in Alice Springs this week as part of the inquest.

The counsel assisting, Peggy Dwyer SC, asked Rolfe questions on Wednesday afternoon about why he had not mentioned in multiple accounts to people prior to his murder trial that Walker had put his hand on his police handgun shortly before he was shot and killed.

Shorten first sent a text to Rolfe after the shooting at 10.34pm on 11 November 2019 – two days after the shooting.

“Hey mate heard the news, hope you and the shoulder are ok. Ignore the leftist reporting in the media, hopefully catch up soon,” she wrote.

Rolfe replied that his shoulder was OK, and that he didn’t “pay attention to the losers anyway”.

Shorten responded: “So glad you’re ok, could have been much worse, I know what you did was totally warranted. If you ever want me to write an article in your defence, with or without naming you, say the word.”

Rolfe replied that he had already thought about if he wanted to put his side out there, and that he would come to her if he decided to do so.

Shorten said: “Ps if or when you want I can name it without naming you or quoting you so it sounds like we never spoke.”

Rolfe said he was “down for that”, to which Shorten responded she could do it any time.

Rolfe agreed with Dwyer that he knew Shorten would be a “very sympathetic journalist” when he sat down for an interview with her on 5 December 2019.

The story based on the interview was published in March 2022, at the completion of his trial.

Shorten is believed to no longer work at the Australian.

Dwyer put it to Rolfe that in the interview with Shorten, in entries Rolfe had made in a police notebook, and conversations he had with colleagues, he had failed to mention that Walker attempted to grab his gun shortly before he was shot.

She put it to Rolfe that he had made up that evidence at trial to make it appear more credible that he had shot Walker a second and third time, the incidents which formed the basis of the murder charge.

When directly asked if it was a lie, Rolfe responded: “It’s definitely not.”

He added that he had recalled that Walker attempted to grab the gun after the instances referred to by Dwyer, adding that there had not been any evidence called during the inquest in relation to how memory works in critical incidents.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rolfe failed in a last-ditch bid to avoid answering questions about the night he shot dead Walker.

Lawyers for the former police officer applied for Coroner Elisabeth Armitage not to be able compel Rolfe to answer questions regarding the shooting.

Michael Abbott KC, for Rolfe, argued that his client should not be forced to answer questions about the shooting on several grounds, including that he may be prosecuted in relation to the first shot, which had previously been ruled by the director of public prosecutions as fired in self-defence, and that there was a possibility of ongoing civil claims against his client.

Patrick Coleridge, counsel assisting, said that while Abbott had foreshadowed an objection against Rolfe answering questions, he had given no prior notice of the application to be made to Armitage.

He told the inquest that there was only a remote possibility that Rolfe would be prosecuted. He noted that Rolfe was not protected from giving evidence in the inquest because of the possibility it could be used in civil claims under Northern Territory law.

Armitage granted Rolfe a certificate which protects him from criminal prosecution based on his evidence but meant he must answer the questions.

She said the possibility of Rolfe being charged was remote, and that even if he was the certificate meant his evidence at the inquest could not be used against him.

The inquest had been expected to be completed in three months but has now stretched on for almost 18 months since it started in September 2022.

The hearing continues.

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