8 June 2022

Robert Smith accused of pouring petrol over man, dog and threatening to set them on fire

| Albert McKnight
Coat of Arms on court building

Robert James Smith, 32, is currently facing a jury trial in the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

An alleged home invader is facing a trial accused of breaking into a south Canberra home, then dousing a man and his dog with petrol and threatening to set them on fire with a lighter.

In Crown Prosecutor Trent Hickey’s opening submissions on Tuesday (7 June), he told the 12-member ACT Supreme Court jury that the man’s housemate had woken up on 1 September 2020 to find “a tall guy and a short guy” wearing balaclavas in his house. One was carrying a lighter and a jerry can filled with petrol.

The taller man is alleged to be 32-year-old Robert James Smith, who is facing the trial, while the shorter man was Kye Jayden Rowe, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced over his role last year when he was 21.

The housemate and the home invaders all went into the man’s bedroom where Mr Smith and Mr Rowe allegedly told him he owed someone money, but the man didn’t know what they were talking about.

Mr Smith allegedly had a knife, Mr Rowe threatened to splash petrol on the man and set him on fire if he didn’t give them money and the housemate was told to tie the man’s hands together with phone cords.

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When the two home invaders were looking around the house, the housemate ran out the front door and down the street to a neighbour’s home and called police.

“They were threatening to kill me and my flatmate with petrol,” he told a Triple Zero operator in a recording played to the court.

“They’ve got knives. When I got a chance, I ran out of the house as fast as possible.”

Meanwhile, Mr Hickey said, Mr Smith allegedly went into the bedroom and started dousing the man, his bed and his dog with petrol.

Despite the man’s pleas to stop, Mr Smith allegedly lit a Zippo lighter and was about to throw it when the man kicked him in the stomach, pushing him back out of the room and closed the door, shutting him out.

The alleged home invaders are accused of stealing a ute and an iPhone when they left.

Afterwards, the man washed the petrol out of his eyes before banging on a neighbour’s doors for help.

Police arrived later, noticing a strong smell of petrol when they did, and Mr Hickey alleged Mr Smith’s fingerprints were found on a black torch in the house.

Mr Hickey also alleged Mr Smith’s and Mr Rowe’s DNA was in the ute when it was later found in Spence, parked in Mr Smith’s parking spot at his unit.

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The housemate’s interview with police was played to jurors in which he said the taller man picked up a knife in the kitchen after he was woken up, which was “a worrying part”.

He described one of the home invaders as “an insecure tough guy”.

“The taller bloke, I think, was just there to look muscly,” he said.

Mr Smith has pleaded not guilty to six charges, including attempting to inflict grievous bodily harm and an alternative charge of committing an act endangering health.

The other charges are riding in a motor vehicle without consent, aggravated burglary and two counts of theft.

Mr Hickey told jurors they would have to decide if Mr Smith was the tall man in the incident, if he rode in a stolen BMW and if the pair stole the ute.

The trial continues before Justice Stephen Norrish.

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