SU­SAN CHENERY

Fol­low­ing an eight-week trial, a man awaits sen­tenc­ing for a 2014 killing in Mur­willum­bah. By Su­san Chenery.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page -

The Riverview Ho­tel sits on the Tweed River, which flows through the New South Wales north coast town of Mur­willum­bah. On a still day, the moun­tains that tower over it are re­flected on the river. In the evenings, the river blushes pink in the sun­set. The Riverview is the kind of coun­try pub where ev­ery­one has al­ways known ev­ery­one.

On the evening of June 13, 2014, Michael Martin’s killer brought him here for din­ner and bought him drink af­ter drink. “Mul­let Mick” Martin, 46, was, a bar­man told The Satur­day Pa­per, “a rogue”.

He of­ten had black eyes. “He liked to ar­gue,” a reg­u­lar says. “He was a loud­mouth.”

Martin, who was on a dis­abil­ity pen­sion, had spent most of his adult life in one pub or an­other, of­ten wait­ing out­side for the ho­tel to open in the morn­ing, then cy­cling home to keep drink­ing when it closed. “He was al­ways drunk,” an­other reg­u­lar says.

In 2010 he had been glassed in the face, one more vi­o­lent mo­ment in what de­tec­tives de­scribed as “a colour­ful past”. His chil­dren had grown up in pubs and tur­moil.

“He al­ways bought them drinks and hot chips,” a for­mer bar­maid says. “They ran around a bit wild. He would yell at the kids when the publi­can told him to con­trol them, but I never saw him hit them.”

On June 13, Martin was still re­cov­er­ing from a vi­cious home in­va­sion in his flat in the in­dus­trial es­tate on the out­skirts of town. He and his flat­mate, Ed­die Man­ning, had been bashed with a sledge­ham­mer by three peo­ple clad in bal­a­clavas. Martin, who had also been stabbed in the eye, had spent weeks in a coma and had lost a lot of weight. His son, Michael jnr, had vis­ited him in hos­pi­tal ev­ery day. On the day of that at­tack, in April, Mick had had lunch with Michael jnr, his son’s wife, Can­dace, and their three chil­dren. Mick loved see­ing his grand­chil­dren.

Af­ter he left hos­pi­tal, still wear­ing an eye patch, Mick’s for­mer part­ner, Jeanne, had taken him in at her home at Beer­wah on the Sun­shine Coast. When she kicked him out again, his killer came to pick him up and drove him to Mur­willum­bah. Mick had waited in the car while his killer stopped to buy mask­ing tape, gloves, clean­ing ma­te­ri­als and ropes at Bun­nings. Mick paid for the petrol.

Martin’s rented flat above the Print Spot of­fices in Quarry Road was still blood­stained and a mess from the at­tack two months ear­lier.

In the early hours of the next morn­ing, Martin was killed in a stab­bing at­tack that sliced through his heart, liver, kid­ney, ribs, face and fin­gers. The force of the at­tack was, said the pros­e­cu­tor in court, “im­mense”. Michael jnr was found bound by mask­ing tape at the bot­tom of the con­crete stairs that led from the first floor, scream­ing and cry­ing for help. “They’ve frig­gin’ killed dad,” he told the po­lice on the phone.

He told po­lice he had heard his fa­ther’s throat be­ing slit by as­sailants wear­ing bal­a­clavas, who had told him “shut up or you die”. Sev­eral days later, he went on tele­vi­sion to make an emo­tional plea for in­for­ma­tion. “Any­one that’d do that to some­one, they shouldn’t be on the street,” he said.

Two days later, Michael jnr made a claim on one of three in­sur­ance poli­cies taken out on his fa­ther, and con­tacted the po­lice to re­quest doc­u­men­ta­tion. In Septem­ber, he and his wife, Can­dace, went on a hol­i­day to Fiji, smil­ing and laugh­ing in pho­tos.

In Fe­bru­ary, 21-year-old Jes­sica Honey Fal­lon, a for­mer pri­vate school­girl from By­ron Bay, was charged with the at­tempted mur­der of Mick Martin in the first at­tack. Said to have de­scended into drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion, she was al­legedly paid to par­tic­i­pate in the at­tempted killing. Fal­lon’s involvement in the story ended here.

Soon af­ter, Can­dace ended the re­la­tion­ship with Michael jnr by text. “Stop play­ing the ‘poor me’ card about your dad,” she wrote. “It was hard but … it is done.”

He re­sponded in a sad, ram­bling let­ter, de­tail­ing his love for her from when they had been teenagers, his child­hood, his sui­cide at­tempts. He also wrote, “money got tighter and we had an­other bright idea to free our lives up more. You and I would fi­nally be able to have the things in life we ever wanted.” He added: “Twenty-five years of tor­ture from these peo­ple led me to do the un­think­able. I let my­self lose con­trol and it scared me. Not at what I did but the mere fact that the an­i­mal side got the bet­ter of me.” He had been hurt, he wrote, “by the very per­son who should have loved me the most but caused me so much pain”.

De­spite his chaotic, painful child­hood, Michael jnr had man­aged to go to univer­sity and be­come a civil en­gi­neer. By 2014, he had a good job at Somerset Re­gional Coun­cil, at Esk in south-east Queensland. His su­per­vi­sor at work said he was a “dili­gent, in­dus­tri­ous, con­sci­en­tious” em­ployee. But he was the sole provider for three chil­dren and a spend­thrift wife and was sink­ing into debt he could not hope to re­pay. There was $27,000 on credit cards, a $200,000 mort­gage, more owed to fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. Un­der in­tense emo­tional and fi­nan­cial pres­sure, he had reached break­ing point.

On March 15, 2015, Michael jnr was ar­rested and charged with mur­der, at­tempted mur­der and griev­ous bod­ily harm with in­tent.

Can­dace told po­lice, “my hus­band was an abu­sive ar­se­hole and he mur­dered his fa­ther and I lied for him.” She had posted an al­ibi on Face­book the first time her hus­band had tried to kill his fa­ther, co-signed in­sur­ance poli­cies and had dis­posed of the mur­der weapon, thought to have been a samu­rai sword. On Septem­ber 12, Can­dace pleaded guilty to caus­ing wound­ing and griev­ous bod­ily harm with in­tent to mur­der, and to be­ing an ac­ces­sory af­ter the fact to mur­der.

Michael jnr looked so young in the dock, so harm­less, as he smiled and waved at his fam­ily. In his suit with his sandy hair neatly parted, rim­less glasses, his back straight, his hands folded in his lap, it was hard to rec­on­cile this per­son with the vi­o­lence in­volved in his sin­gle­minded de­ter­mi­na­tion to kill his fa­ther. He had lost at least 10 kilo­grams and was greatly di­min­ished from the man the pros­e­cu­tion said had once been a mar­tial arts ex­pert. He was com­posed as he took the stand, ex­plain­ing that the let­ter to Can­dace, which had been found in a drawer at his work, was not a con­fes­sion but an “ex­pres­sion of emo­tions”.

He said: “Can­dace had left and

I had a ner­vous break­down.” He said he was “men­tally un­well” at the time, barely re­mem­bered writ­ing it, and that psy­chol­o­gists had told him to ex­press his emo­tions on pa­per.

He said the three in­sur­ance poli­cies he had taken out in his fa­ther’s name, and paid for on his credit card, were at Mick’s re­quest be­cause Mick thought his life was in dan­ger. To­gether, they were worth $2.5 mil­lion. “He said, ‘Son, I have fucked up big time,’ ” Michael jnr told the jury. “If the worst did hap­pen, his fam­ily would be all set up.”

Michael jnr said he signed him­self as ben­e­fi­ciary be­cause his fa­ther’s for­mer part­ner, Jeanne, would come af­ter it other­wise, and his fa­ther didn’t want that. His bar­ris­ter, Gabriel Wendler, told the jury: “His fa­ther had health prob­lems, ene­mies. He thought, ‘This man has done noth­ing for me or his fam­ily, at least there would be some­thing for his chil­dren.’ ”

His half sib­lings told the court Mick had of­ten said, “When I die you will have a lot of money.” Wendler told the court that although blood was splat­tered on the ceil­ing and all over the house, there was none on Michael jnr. “His fa­ther treated him like rub­bish, he ex­posed him episod­i­cally to crimes in­clud­ing mur­der, drug deal­ing and as­so­ci­a­tion with mo­tor­cy­cle gangs.” De­spite this, Michael jnr loved his fa­ther.

By con­trast, crown pros­e­cu­tor Bren­dan Camp­bell de­scribed Michael jnr as a “seam­less and de­ter­mined liar” and spoke of the “ha­tred and re­venge” that had mo­ti­vated him. He spoke of the “dress re­hearsal” – the first failed at­tempt at mur­der – and the sav­agery of the suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion.

In the fi­nal days of the eight-week trial, in the el­e­gant, wood-pan­elled Lis­more Supreme Court, the ju­rors looked dead­ened.

It took them five days to reach their ver­dict. It was guilty on all three counts.

MICK HAD WAITED IN THE CAR WHILE HIS KILLER STOPPED TO BUY MASK­ING TAPE, GLOVES, CLEAN­ING MA­TE­RI­ALS AND ROPES AT BUN­NINGS.

SU­SAN CHENERY is a jour­nal­ist who has lived and worked in Syd­ney, Lon­don, New York and Italy.

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