23 August 2021

Comanchero appeals conviction over gunfight at former commander's home

| Albert McKnight
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CCTV still

CCTV footage shows a bikie shooting and arson attack at the Calwell home on 28 June 2018. Photo: Supplied.

A member of the Canberra Comancheros is appealing his conviction over a violent home invasion and gunfight with his gang’s former commander.

Earlier this year, Justice David Mossop sentenced 26-year-old Axel Sidaros to over nine years’ jail after a judge-alone retrial of the case in the ACT Supreme Court.

Justice Mossop said a division in the Comancheros in 2018 had resulted in the previous commander, Peter Zdravkovic, being replaced by Pitasoni “Soni” Ulavalu, who was killed in a Civic stabbing last year.

Zdravkovic left the motorcycle gang in bad standing, which disintegrated further when he photographed himself burning club colours.

Justice Mossop said Sidaros, then 23, went to Zdravkovic’s Calwell home on 28 June 2018, with several others, carrying an Adler 12-gauge shotgun.

Zdravkovic had stepped out of the shower when he heard a bang and saw people with guns. He grabbed his own rifle as shots were fired into the living room, and he returned fire himself.

As the intruders fled, one ignited petrol they had spread on the carport and driveway, setting cars alight.

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Zdravkovic, who had been at home with his wife and child, was shot in the hand and needed a finger amputated.

Justice Mossop said it was unclear which of the shooters had fired this bullet, but he found Sidaros guilty of charges that included intentionally inflicting grievous bodily harm, arson and endangering life. He was found not guilty of attempted murder.

In the ACT Court of Appeal on Friday (20 August), Sidaros’ barrister Stephen Odgers SC of Forbes Chambers argued there was a ground of unreasonable verdict.

He said the Crown’s case was the intruders had a prior agreement to intentionally inflict grievous bodily harm on Zdravkovic.

But he said the court could not exclude an alternate hypothesis – that there was only an agreement to commit arson by burning the cars, and they had taken loaded weapons to defend themselves.

He screened close-circuit television (CCTV) footage of the home invasion to the court to support this hypothesis.

Mr Odgers said the footage showed an intruder spreading petrol around while others go to a rear sliding door and break some glass so another person can pour petrol into the entry area. He said the shooting begins shortly after the glass is broken.

“If you’re planning to shoot him, would you give him warning by breaking into the premises prior to that?” he asked.

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While the intruders fired back at Zdravkovic, Mr Odgers said they could have been trying to make him hide so they could continue to pour the petrol or so they could escape.

He also argued the intruders did not intend to put the lives of the home’s residents at risk as they were at the back door, which means there was an “obvious” escape route through the front door of the house.

But Crown Prosecutor Anthony Williamson said the fact a means of escape was available did not mean the home’s three people wouldn’t have been placed in danger by the house they were inside being set alight.

He also said the CCTV showed that after the shooting began, the intruders could have stayed out of the line of fire and retreated, but instead, they hovered near the door and advanced forward to fire more shots.

Sidaros’ other barrister, Murugan Thangaraj SC of Forbes Chambers, said if there were a third trial, the Crown’s case would not be anywhere near as strong, partly as it had relied on admissions from a prison informant whose evidence had been rejected by the justice.

But Mr Williamson said the justice did not place any weight on this prisoner’s evidence and the Crown had a “powerful circumstantial case”.

For instance, a note found in Sidaros’ bedroom referenced Zdravkovic’s address, and his gun had a custom sight which could be seen in CCTV of the incident.

There was also Sidaros’ “unusually rapid advancement in the Comancheros”, he said.

Mr Thangaraj confirmed his client was the only person ever charged over the home invasion and had remained in custody since his arrest, except for a couple of days when he attended a funeral.

The appeal is before Justices John Burns, Michael Elkaim and Acting Justice Verity McWilliam, who have reserved their decision.

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