Yuendumu trial: Claims of race-based bias in jury’s acquittal decision don’t hold water

It is entirely misconceived to attribute racist motives, without evidence, to the jury and justice system that acquitted policeman Zachary Rolfe of the murder of Kumanjayi Walker, writes CHRIS MERRITT in The Australian (reproduced here as a matter of public importance). 

It is, however, worth noting that Rolfe’s jury was drawn from the Darwin community, which is on the coast 1749km from Yuendumu in central Australia where the shooting occurred.

That is like selecting a jury from the suburbs of Brisbane to deal with an incident that took place in Melbourne.

If the goal was to ease community unrest, it failed.

Eliminating the possibility of local involvement was a wasted opportunity to build confidence in criminal justice – something that is clearly needed at Yuendumu – but it is not evidence that the jury in Constable Rolfe’s murder trial was racist.

Every juror is required to decide cases based on what they hear in court, not extraneous matters such as community affiliation and race.

The only evidence of bias in this affair goes the other way and, at least initially, points to a system that appeared to give community sentiment at Yuendumu as much weight as Rolfe’s presumption of innocence. The initial investigation was not overseen by the police but by Ken Fleming, the former commissioner of the Northern Territory’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.

This unusual arrangement was put in place not just at the request of the NT’s police commissioner, Jamie Chalker, but after a request from Aboriginal elders at Yuendumu.

It came to an end after ICAC Inspector Bruce McClintock SC received complaints about Fleming’s alleging apprehended bias. McClintock suggested, through ICAC’s general manager, that the commissioner step aside from the investigation.

This is all outlined in McClintock’s 2020 annual report, which shows Chalker referred the investigation to Fleming on November 11, 2019, two days after the shooting, and described it as “suspected improper conduct”.

Three days later, Fleming attended a demonstration at Alice Springs where he made a statement that led McClintock to suggest that the ICAC commissioner needed to withdraw.

Fleming told the crowd: “One of the most important messages here today is black lives matter. Anyone who says contrary to that is guilty of corrupt behaviour.”

The grief of the people at Yuendumu deserves respect. But there is no evidence they are victims of race-based bias. If anyone has cause for complaint on that basis, it is Zachary Rolfe.

Chris Merritt is vice-president of the Rule of Law Institute

Chris Merritt

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10 Responses to Yuendumu trial: Claims of race-based bias in jury’s acquittal decision don’t hold water

  1. Pauline Chalmers says:

    Very little in Chris Merritt’s narrative rings my truth bells, and I feel Ned Jampinjinpa Hargreaves, the Warlpiri elder would agree. His mind is viewing Kumanjayi Walker’s death as an extension of the Coniston Massacre, bearing in mind his mental disability from FASD, as in Teina Pora’s case rarely rates a mention in the discussion. Kumanjayi carried a serious medical diagnosis and he was NOT a scheming Drug Lord running a multi-million dollar drug empire he needed to protect. AND the jury was not representative of the numbers of aboriginal people who reside in Darwin either. As for Chris’s assertion Darwin is as far from Yuendumu as Brisbane is from Melbourne. That’s a ridiculous comparison, when you just drive straight up the Stuart highway to get there. Distances in the NT are not treated in the same manner as they are in the rest of Australia. The last poisoning in the settler frontier violence in the NT occurred in 1980, so tensions have not yet healed in the memories of people whose forebears lived through these events. They are still raw in the minds of aboriginal people.

  2. Robert Greenshields says:

    More than just interesting, is the belated comment printed today in an Australian version of a recognised international newspaper that jurors in the trial of Zachary Rolfe may now “feel cheated”, following the lifting of court orders that exposed Zacharys prior policing behaviour and outlook towards his supposed, now profession.

    Recognising that the transparent flow of known recorded relevant information, irrespective of individual interpretations, is as valuable to a truthful inquiry/court proceedings as deliberately with holding that evidence, smacks of untainted manipulation and choreographing of an outcome.

    A more than common practice, in more than one state or territory in Australia, if a broad outlook is activated; and that is before, as the term “Local Area Command” is utilised in NSW, are put under the microscope, because it is quite obvious to me, especially in the NSW North West, that sub cultures of cowardice continue to maintain the status quo of obsequious conformity, through the closing of ranks to protect the criminals, and criminally accepted behaviour in the job.

    And the LAC command tells/deludes itself that they are professional, and doing a great job for the benefit of citizens and communities? Not, sadly, in the supposed country music capital and surrounding districts though, out here it seems like a Zachary Rolfe type as described by the court papers, would slot in most adequately and comfortably.

  3. WHALENSKY says:

    Is Keith suggesting– horror of horrors– that the jury was stiched up ? Even when a TOTALLY TOTALLY innocent man is shot 6 times in the face ( with hollow point bullets) Followed by a smorgasbord of lies from the dear little policemen– inferring that the poor mutilated victim of police brilliance deserved that attention from the Public Protectorate–After much effort in character denigration from said protectors and insults to his family– they were awarded a pittance–similar to Darryl Beamish– SNF will be compensated–what is less than a pittance ?– With pompous explanations as to why she is lucky to get as much as a politician who crashes the parliamentary push bike !

  4. Robert Greenshields says:

    A stitch up alright Keith.

    Bordering on an absolute miscarriage of justice, through the manipulation of known facts as previously recorded, through manipulative obstructing, and with holding known specific evidence; or from my perception of the exposed evidence of the Constables previous behaviour, another choreographed rudimentary assault on our nations judicial system by knowingly deceiving and misrepresenting facts about the accused known inconsistency when under oath, and his previous recorded behaviour.

    Yet again, in another territory or state the quality of the policing services provided to supposedly maintain a just and peaceful society is bought into question through the criminal actions of the same persons supposedly living by the moral standards of a sworn oath, allegedly gainfully trained, and expected to maintain the standard and uphold law and order.

    Sue Neill Frasers case is seemingly bordering on a form Tasmanian institutionalised, incestuously based corruption, but sadly for all Australian citizens the now exposed truthful evidence in the NT case, again confirms the need for an intervention at the highest of a federal government level, because there is obviously far too much exposed devious activity within our nations policing and judicial systems.

  5. WHALENSKY says:

    How is it that ordinary men can disarm an armed person on a LONDON bridge—Then along comes the gun slingers–BLAM BLAM ! Shot a total of at least nine times Then a totaly innocent worker – sitting on a train– more than 6 shots to the head— almost removed his face– the stinking lies after that bit of fun–almost as bad as SNF–the highly trained gun slingers can only shoot to kill even after the poor mental person has been disarmed and restrained– or no weapon at all– Something to do with the character of the person’s attracted to the gunslinger profession– as the former Prime Minister commented– they learn to lie in police college–they also learn that honesty will destroy their caree–Mendolsson Miller–their whole future–the proof of this can easily be found–SADLY the jury was stitched UP ! The victim needed more than stitches–super glue ? Shot guns have been found to be– depending on the loading– non lethal– sting like hell– watch em squeal ! (Not in the face )

  6. WHALENSKY says:

    Having lived in the Territory sice 1959– I have followed camel road trains very closely- that way youse can’t be blamed for slamming anyone sleeping on the track–especially biased jury persons !

  7. WHALENSKY says:

    TheDEAR showed great restraint — could (should) have called an AIRSTRIKE– Thems got to learn !

  8. WHALENSKY says:

    That’ll learn em–they is lucky–Airstrike could have been called–OR alternatively the little feller could have 5 accurate shots to the left testicle ! That’s what we did to annoying people in NAM !

  9. WHALENSKY says:

    The very fit- large-strong-Aboriginal accidently fell on the dainty little Policewoman at the entrance to the lookup– HE had been singing and laughing boisterously in the streets of the island resort– Police don’t like IT . She died of CAR CRASH TYPE INJURIES –POLICE UNION were vocal in their support of of the obvious–“IT was an accident” A typical Queensland stacked JURY found the thoroughly GOOD- DECENT-ABORIGINAL MAN— NOT GUILTY– THE POLICE UNION was very happy with the verdict– The massive internal injuries were consistent with fall on the steps– no violence took place shortly after the FALL– SUCH as a knee drop onto the lower rib area–Some Police rioted and wrecked the Joint– The Aboriginals had to pay the little Policemens $30 million damages– which they then wasted on boats and Landcruisers–

  10. Keith says:

    Having lived in the Territory for 33 years, I have followed those case closely from day 1. This incident happened within a day or two of the new police commissioner starting in the position. The Chief Minister who appointed him, took him to Yuendemu two days after the event in an attempt quell anger in the community. At a public meeting, he told residents that consequences would flow from the incident. Rolfe was charged two days later.
    At trial, the prosecution’s argument was that the first shot was warranted, but the next two, 2.5 seconds later constituted murder.
    It is scarcely believable that the investigators came to that conclusion within four days of the shooting . Indeed, the original investigator, Detective Pollock, assessed that there was insufficient evidence for a charge to be laid, then was promptly taken off the case!
    There is little doubt that there was political interference involved here but thankfully the jury saw the case for what it was, a stitch up.

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