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