19 July 2021

Pandemic lockdown could delay Zach Rolfe murder trial in NT

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Zach Rolfe

Former Canberran Zach Rolfe is facing a murder trial in the Northern Territory. Photo: File.

COVID-19 could significantly delay the Darwin trial of Canberra man Zachary Rolfe, who stands accused of murdering Kumanjayi Walker, 19, in the Northern Territory community of Yuendumu.

It’s alleged that Constable Rolfe, a Northern Territory policeman, shot the Warlpiri man three times in the course of an altercation in November 2019.

Constable Rolfe and members of the Alice Springs-based Immediate Response Team had been called to Yuendumu to assist with Mr Walker’s arrest.

Rolfe, the son of prominent Canberra business owners and philanthropists Richard and Debbie Rolfe, faced a three-day committal hearing via video link in Canberra in September. He indicated that he will plead not guilty to the charges.

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The committal hearing was told that three shots were fired on the night Mr Walker was killed. Constable Rolfe had been stabbed with scissors by Mr Walker before the first shot was fired at point-blank range. Body-camera footage of the attempted arrest was shown during the committal hearing.

Constable Rolfe, who joined the Northern Territory Police and served as an officer in the Australian Army, was suspended on full pay and granted bail to live in Canberra.

The trial was set to begin next Monday (26 July), and while a week-long pre-trial hearing will be held via video link, it’s believed that many of the prosecution team will be unable to enter the Northern Territory due to quarantine requirements.

AAP is reporting that many of the prosecution team are based in NSW, where Greater Sydney remains in lockdown as the state struggles to contain the spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

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Prosecutor Philip Strickland SC told the NT Supreme Court that he had applied for an exemption to travel to Darwin, but there has been no confirmation that it was granted. Sophie Callan SC will also appear for the prosecution.

The pre-trial hearing before Acting Justice Dean Mildren has been closed to the public and media, and to date, there’s been no news when the trial will proceed.

The trial was moved from Alice Springs to Darwin late last year and the Supreme Court had intended to stream the proceedings into Yuendumu, but at the request of some community members, that will not now take place.

The trial has been set down for a month and is likely to include evidence via video link from a number of internationally based expert witnesses.

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A further update from the latest ABS statistics publication. Their words not mine and I will make the comment that guns are highly regulated in the NT like elsewhere in Australia, so weapons are basically knives or clubs.
“There were 12 victims of homicide and related offences in the Northern Territory. 7 incidents involved a knife.
The number of victims of assault recorded in the Northern Territory increased by 22% (1,470 victims) from 2019 to 8,200 victims in 2020. This was the highest number recorded for this offence in the Northern Territory across the twenty-six year time series. The victimisation rate increased from 2,737 victims in 2019 to 3,331 victims per 100,000 persons in 2020. In the Northern Territory, a weapon was used in over two in five assaults (42% or 3,462 victims), the highest proportion of any state or territory where assault data was available.
More than half of all robberies did not involve use of a weapon (52% or 89 victims)”. This last sentence is very politically correct.

I can provide a little bit of perspective. Murder rates are measured per 100,000 people. The latest statistics for Australia are overall 1.6 murder victims per 100,000 people and for the Northern Territory it is running at 4.8 murder victims. Three times the murder rate of the rest of Australia.
This is not unusual as in the year after the change of government in the NT, the murder rate in the then Central command division of the NT police had a murder rate of 50 per hundred thousand and as was subsequently found out they were all aboriginal on aboriginal and the murder rate was 200 per hundred thousand for the aboriginal population. These are rates and there were less than 100,000 people in that command area. Gold medal winners against the worst ghettos in the US and genuine competitors to the Central American countries with incredible crime problems.
A former Chief Coroner of the NT pointed out that the stabbing rate in the then Southern Command of the NT police, based on Alice Springs and surrounding areas, was the highest in the world and the statistic was 340 stabbings per 100,000 people.

That still doesn’t explain why a cop is charged for murder after what appears to be legitimate self defence.

Presumably there is much more to it than I’m aware of.

I am making no judgements but purely providing some background information and statistics showing the differences between the ACT and the NT on crime levels.

In the first week of being a cop this brave young man jumped into a swollen river to save two people.

A few years later he’s called to a house where the victim came at police officers with an axe only three days before

He then shoots the victim after being stabbed with scissors.

And then he’s charged with murder.

The NT seems to have a similar soft stance that the ACT has on violent offenders.

I really hope this upstanding young man is cleared and manages to resume his career.

There must be more to this case than there seems.

Guy with nasty criminal history stabs cop (arguably attempted murder) who is trying to arrest him.

Cop shoots him in self defence.

Seems to not be a case for a murder charge against the cop.

So what is the prosecution’s claim?

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