More than six weeks after her son’s life support was turned off, a distraught Beryl Dickson screamed and cried as his alleged murderer was granted bail. “My son’s dead,” she yelled as Magistrate Robert Stone handed down his decision in the Newcastle Magistrate Court on Tuesday.
“He murdered my son, and you’re giving him bail!”
Ms Dickson’s son Ricky Slater, 34, died in hospital a day after a struggle with 33-year-old Benjamin Batterham in the early hours of March 26.
The court heard Batterham was celebrating his birthday with friends at his Hamilton home in Newcastle when he saw Mr Slater on his property holding his partner’s handbag.
The prosecution alleges Batterham chased Mr Slater around the block – the length of about four football fields – before holding him down, with his forearm around his neck.
The court heard a bystander to the struggle saw Mr Slater “squirming” and heard him say “let go, let go.”
Another witness, who called triple-zero, described a man “strangling or choking” another man, the court heard.
State Prosecutor John Sfinas told a bail hearing last week Batterham’s actions had gone beyond what was reasonable.
“The accused sitting on the deceased is an important feature (of the crown case), Mr Stone said on Thursday.
“When told that the deceased was having breathing difficulties, he should have released his hold and removed his weight off him.”
Mr Slater had two fractures to his larynx and skull bruising when he died.
A full post mortem is yet to be completed but initial assessments indicate the cause of death was a lack of oxygen to the brain leading to a heart attack, the court heard.
Batterham’s barrister Winston Terracini SC had previously argued the crown case was “extraordinarily weak” and that a jury could find his client guilty of manslaughter or acquit him altogether.
He also submitted Mr Slater’s drug use could mean Batterham’s alleged actions were not the principle contributor to the death.
Outside court, the high-profile silk said he sympathised with Mr Slater’s mother.
“Everybody has a mother, everybody feels sorry for her,” Mr Terracini said.
Mr Stone said self defence could properly be raised at trial and that provocation was a “live issue”.
“A stranger found in your home at 3.20 in the morning with your partner’s handbag … are in my assessment very relevant to a jury’s deliberations.”
The circumstances surrounding Mr Slater’s death has attracted much public attention, with online petitions, amassing more than 170,000 signatures, calling for Batterham’s release.
Mr Terracini last week told the court Batterham’s parents had received threats.
Outside court, Ms Dickson questioned whether her Aboriginal son would have been given bail if the situation was reversed.
“If it was my son who’d done that, would they (the courts) give him bail?” she said.
“No they wouldn’t.”
Mr Stone did not accept Mr Sfinas’ submission that the crown’s case was “strong” and ordered a $200,000 security for Batterham’s conditional release.
The alleged murderer’s parents had to hand over the title deeds to their home to secure bail.
Upon his release from Cessnock jail on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Batterham said he was looking forward to getting his life back together.
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