The trial of a man charged over the death of an elderly nursing home resident has ended in acquittal, with a judge finding he had not pushed the 89-year-old in the way the prosecution alleged.
During 61-year-old Mario Amato’s judge-alone trial, the ACT Supreme Court heard he allegedly pushed Sheila Marie Capper out of a laundry at the Southern Cross aged care facility in Campbell, where they were both residents, on 13 November 2018. She fell and fractured her hip, then died on 4 December 2018.
When the trial began, Crown prosecutor Rebecca Christensen said she expected an expert would tell the court it was unlikely Ms Capper would have died without the fracture to her hip and alleged the injury to her hip was the substantial cause of her death.
But on Friday (24 September), Justice Michael Elkaim announced not guilty verdicts to charges of manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.
“The possibilities for the cause of death are varied, the unknowns are too numerous and the suppositions in favour of a link to the fall are too tenuous,” he said.
“It simply cannot be found that the fall was a substantial or significant cause of death.”
He said a major issue to be determined was what happened inside the laundry.
During closing submissions on Wednesday (22 September), Mr Amato’s barrister Jon White SC said his client had consistently denied deliberately harming Ms Capper.
He said she was a high fall risk, which meant she had a “propensity for falling”, and had been banned from the laundry.
“It is clear that the laundry was a dangerous environment for Ms Capper to be in,” he said.
Justice Elkaim said he did not accept Ms Christensen’s submission that Ms Capper was unlikely to have fallen without some independent cause because her clinical records did not show any previous falls.
“Her very status as a high falls risk must imply that she was at risk of falling at any time,” he said.
Closed-circuit television footage (CCTV) screened to the court captured her fall into the hallway, but not the alleged push inside the laundry, before staff arrived to find her lying on the ground.
Justice Elkaim said she did not come out of the room backwards, as if she had been pushed backwards, and instead “appears to be falling either forwards or laterally”.
Ms Christensen had also said that when Ms Capper was on the ground, she told staff, “he pushed me, he pushed me”.
She said when Mr Amato left the laundry room, Ms Capper told staff, “that man, he did it, he did it”.
But Justice Elkaim said these statements were unreliable, partly because Ms Capper had cognitive deficits, an impaired short-term memory and was in a “very confusing situation” after her fall. It was also unknown what she meant by the term “pushed”.
He found the Crown had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that she had been pushed by Mr Amato in the manner it had alleged.