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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Nino Bucci

Zachary Rolfe trial: second bullet likely caused Kumanjayi Walker’s death, court hears

Zachary Rolfe arrives at the supreme court in Darwin
Zachary Rolfe arrives at the supreme court in Darwin where he is on trial for the murder of Kumanjayi Walker in Yuendumu. Photograph: Aaron Bunch/AAP

Kumanjayi Walker could have survived being shot the first time by Constable Zachary Rolfe, a court has heard, but the second bullet fired by the police officer likely caused the Warlpiri man’s death.

Rolfe is charged with murdering Walker in Yuendumu, a remote community 300km from Alice Springs, on 9 November 2019. He has pleaded not guilty.

The court has heard Rolfe shot Walker three times, but the first shot is not subject to any charges. It occurred only moments after Walker stabbed Rolfe with a pair of small scissors and happened while the pair were about a metre apart.

The murder charge relates to the second and third shots fired by Rolfe, which the prosecution allege were fired at point-blank range while Walker was being controlled by another officer.

Dr Keith Towsey, a trauma surgeon at two Brisbane hospitals, told Rolfe’s trial on Friday that a review of Walker’s injuries showed the second bullet passed from one side of his body to the other. It penetrated Walker’s liver, spleen, a kidney and right lung while doing so, he said, and likely proved fatal.

Towsey said that while the injuries caused by the first and third shots were still serious, they were unlikely to have proved fatal if Walker had received hospital treatment. All three shots hit Walker in the torso.

Towsey also said the first shot was unlikely to have incapacitated Walker to the extent he would have no longer posed a threat with the scissors, as it would not have diminished the function of his right arm, which had been holding the weapon.

Under cross-examination by David Edwardson QC, for Rolfe, Towsey was asked if he had previously been approached by the Northern Territory police or director of public prosecutions to express an opinion about whether the pair of scissors used by Walker could cause a fatal wound.

He said he was asked his opinion by an NT police officer, and also emailed a photo of the scissors, but after expressing his opinion he did not provide a formal report.

Edwardson called for any record of the communication between Towsey and NT police, including the email containing the photo of the scissors, to be presented to the court.

The prosecutor, Philip Strickland SC, said he was not aware of the police approach to Towsey.

Senior Constable Anthony Hawkings, the only direct witness to the shooting of Walker who has appeared at the trial, also continued his evidence on Friday.

He was asked about an earlier statement he gave to police about the moment he described as when “the shit hit the fan” – the 2.6-second gap between the first shot and the second shot at a property known as House 511.

Hawkings was asked by Strickland about his previous statement where he described a moment seemingly before the second shot was fired when he looked in the doorway to the house.

In his statement, he said it appeared Rolfe and Constable Adam Eberl had contained or were containing Walker, and this, along with the fact he was carrying an AR-15 and did not want to get into a “wrestle”, was why he did not enter the property. The prosecution allege Walker no longer posed a threat as the arm that had been carrying the scissors was pinned under his body, and Eberl was on top of him.

Hawkings told the court on Friday that because the incident happened so quickly, he could not be sure that when he made that statement he was referring specifically to the time between the first and second shots, or to his general impression of the overall event.

Under cross-examination by Edwardson, and after again watching body-worn camera footage of the incident, Hawkings clarified that he did not believe Walker had been contained, even after being shot on the second and third occasions. He also said Walker was still holding the scissors after he had been shot for the third time.

The trial continues on Monday.

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