WARNING: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.
A court has heard the community needs to be protected from the man who stabbed his friend to death in Gungahlin while he was drunk and sleep-deprived.
After a month-long trial earlier this year, a jury found Joshua Higgins not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Higgins was accused of stabbing Jae-Ho Oh in the neck and back 14 times, as well as using a soundbar speaker to bash his face four times at Mr Oh’s Gungahlin home on 11 March 2019. Higgins claimed he acted in self-defence.
During his trial, the jury heard the 32-year-old feared he had been sexually assaulted when he woke up with his pants apparently pulled down and Mr Oh lying on top of him. The two started arguing, which escalated into a fight.
On Monday (26 July), Higgins’ barrister Kieran Ginges of Burley Griffin Chambers told an ACT Supreme Court sentencing hearing that his client had already spent about two years and four months in custody, so believed he would be released “shortly”.
Mr Ginges said Higgins continued to be assaulted in jail and found prison onerous due to his anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He said there were “no winners” in this case, and there was a “cauldron of sadness” that resulted in Mr Oh losing his life.
“Mr Higgins did not set out to kill his friend Mr Oh,” he said.
He said Higgins had sought refuge at his friend’s home that weekend because he felt he wouldn’t be welcome at his family’s residence after gambling his mother’s money.
The two began drinking heavily, but Mr Ginges said the mood was generally one of “drunken jovialness”, illustrated, for example, by a photo Higgins sent to a friend of Mr Oh strumming a guitar.
They also debated topics like whether or not autocratic leaders were better than others.
But Mr Ginges alleged that after finding Mr Oh on top of him and pulling his pants down, Higgins confronted him, then Mr Oh became aggressive.
His client had said his “survival mode” kicked when Mr Oh grabbed a knife.
During the trial, the court heard Higgins had taken the drug ‘ice’, or methylamphetamine, about 24 hours before going to Mr Oh’s house.
They spent the next day drinking before Higgins finally went to bed after remaining awake for about 60 hours.
Mr Ginges said Higgins’ PTSD also played a significant part in the case, which reduced his moral capability.
He said Justice John Burns could find the jury had come to three different “paths” when determining its manslaughter verdict: self-defence, provocation and diminished responsibility through substantial impairment.
But Crown prosecutor Trent Hickey argued the jury would not have believed provocation played a role, even based on Higgins’ version of events, because a reasonable person would not think what had happened to him was enough for him to lose control in the way he did.
He said Higgins only had superficial injuries to his hands and questioned how likely it would have been that he could have disarmed the knife from Mr Oh given his drunkenness and sleep deprivation.
He also said blood patterns near a bed suggested Mr Oh had been low to the ground when he was stabbed there.
In total, Mr Oh had 34 separate injuries, Mr Hickey said, which was an “extremely excessive” number and included eight to his face.
He also described the stabs to the divorced father’s back and neck as being of a “frenzied nature”.
Mr Hickey said for a long time Higgins had been on notice about the exacerbation alcohol and use of ‘ice’ had on him, which increased his moral culpability.
“The community needs to be protected from him, in my submission,” he said.
Justice Burns said after the fight, Higgins had been seen running down the street calling out for help as though he was afraid he was being attacked. But Mr Hickey said while there was no argument Higgins thought he was being attacked, the issue was whether or not it was based in reality.
Justice Burns said he would notify both parties when he was ready to hand down his sentence.