THERE were tears in the Newcastle Supreme Court on Thursday as a jury acquitted three people of the murder of East Maitland man Stephen MacLeod.
Mr MacLeod died at the John Hunter Hospital in 2014, just weeks after his 50th birthday and 10 days after an altercation at the home of his partner Caron Anne Wells.
The three people involved in that altercation and accused of Mr MacLeod’s killing – Ms Wells, her son Kris Mitchison and his friend Ricky Whelan – walked free after the jury read out its not guilty verdicts to murder and manslaughter.
Family members cried as the verdicts were announced. Mr Whelan buried his head in his hands.
Mr Whelan was convicted of a downgraded charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, after making admissions that he punched a neighbour in the face on the night, leaving him with a bloodied nose.
Justice Robert Hulme placed him on a 12-month good behaviour bond.
Mr Mitchison and Mr Whelan had been out drinking and were planning to have a nightcap with Mr Mitchison’s mother when they knocked on the door of her Kenneth Street, East Maitland, home at around 4am.
She was hysterical and had two black eyes when she opened the door and asked them to remove Mr MacLeod from her home.
During the trial the Crown alleged the trio formed a “joint criminal enterprise” to murder Mr MacLeod as payback for the injuries he had inflicted on Ms Wells.
However the defence countered that the young men were simply “doing the right thing” when they went in to assist a “battered” woman and tried to move Mr MacLeod along.
It was argued the only punch thrown was in self defence as Mr MacLeod tried to resist their efforts.
During its deliberations, the jury asked for transcripts of the conflicting medical evidence given by two experts. One of the experts agreed that Mr MacLeod could have already had the brain injury the day before the March 16 disturbance.
He was heard saying he felt like he had “been hit in the head with a bottle.”
The jury also asked for clarification on when the Crown believed the “joint criminal enterprise” was formed among the trio.
Justice Hulme made a reference to closing statements of the barristers as he thanked the jury at the end of the trial.
“What more could a jury do?” he said.
“You have taken time in your deliberations and given intelligent and careful consideration to the issues.
“No one could ask any more of a jury than what you have provided.”