UPDATED: Following a string of COVID-19 delays, Zachary Rolfe’s trial for murder should begin as scheduled on Monday (23 August) after an application to the Supreme Court to delay proceedings was rejected.
High Court Justice Jacqueline Gleeson heard a further application to the High Court to stay proceedings on Friday, and will hand down her decision on Monday morning. Pending that appeal for a hearing on a matter of law, the trial is still likely to proceed.
Constable Rolfe is the son of well-known Canberra business couple and philanthropists Richard and Debbie Rolfe.
He will plead not guilty to charges that he murdered 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker at Yuendemu in November 2019. He will also enter not guilty pleas to two alternative charges of manslaughter and reckless conduct causing death.
The Crown had asked for a stay of proceedings, enabling them to appeal to the High Court after the full bench of the Supreme Court found last week that Constable Rolfe was entitled to argue three separate defences before the jury.
These include that he should not be found criminally liable if the jury found he was acting in good faith during the arrest of Mr Walker who died after Constable Rolfe shot him three times.
Constable Rolfe, an Afghanistan veteran who has been decorated for bravery, can claim that he acted in self-defence, acted reasonably in the course of duties, and has immunity from liability under police laws.
The full bench of the Supreme Court found that there is no logical inconsistency between an intention to cause someone serious harm and an intention to arrest them for those purposes.
But Crown Prosecutor Philip Strickland SC argued this week that there would be significant ramifications if Mr Rolfe were acquitted on the grounds that he had acted in good faith.
If correct, he said, it would mean that a police officer could shoot a suspect dead and avoid criminal liability if a jury found a reasonable possibility they had acted in good faith while exercising their duties.
But Constable Rolfe’s defence team argued that further delays in the trial would be untenable. Key legal representatives have been unable to fly into the Northern Territory for previous trial dates and Acting Justice Milden, hearing the appeal, agreed that delaying the trial could mean it would not go ahead until next year.
“We are not likely to find a [new] trial date for this year”, Justice Milden said. “Any delay in the trial process causes harm to the accused.”
The jury will now be empanelled on Monday, unless the High Court grants leave to appeal in the meantime.
Agreed facts released by the court show that Constable Rolfe fired the first shot at Mr Walker after he was stabbed with a pair of scissors by the victim. A second and third shot were then fired within a matter of seconds.
In September, a committal hearing was shown footage of Mr Walker running at police with an axe in the days before he was fatally shot.