THE HIGHLY anticipated sexual assault trial of a former NRL star and months of murders clogging up the Newcastle Supreme Court, the result of an explosion of violence in the Hunter 12 months ago.
They say crime doesn't pay, but prosecuting and defending the Hunter's accused criminals is a booming business with Newcastle courthouse a revolving door for tens of thousands of matters each year.
And among the myriad of drink-driving, domestic violence and drug related offences, these are the most significant criminal cases of the next 12 months. Jarryd Hayne, the former NRL star, was leaving Newcastle courthouse in July when he stopped briefly to speak to the waiting media.
"I want to make it very clear I am innocent of these charges," Hayne said. "It's been a very hard time on the family. "But the 4th of May, 2020.... justice will be served." Hayne, 31, was referring to what will be the first day of the most anticipated, most read about and most discussed criminal trial in the Hunter in 2020.
Moments earlier, upstairs in courtroom 5.1, Hayne, 31, had been arraigned and pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault and inflict actual bodily harm.
The charges relate to an alleged incident in the Hunter on NRL grand final night in 2018. Hayne is accused of travelling to a house in Newcastle's western suburbs where he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman, ripping off her clothes and biting her on the genital area, drawing blood. Hayne's trial, which is estimated to run for about a week, will be the most high-profile criminal matter in Newcastle this year.
But there are other significant trials to be heard and determined in Newcastle over the next 12 months.
Towards the end of 2018 there was an explosion of violence in Newcastle, a statistical anomaly as the city registered three murders in as many days and four overall in 11 days.
The wheels of justice turn ever slowly and those matters have been working their way through the local court, with a number of them slated for trial in the NSW Supreme Court in 2020. But the violence and tragedy didn't stop there. A six-month-old boy was found dead at a home in New Lambton in February, Gabriella Thompson was murdered at Glendale in March, her ex-partner and killer Tafari Walton shot dead by police the next day, and police found the body of Danielle Easey wrapped in plastic in Cockle Creek in August.
And, just last week on Boxing Day, Steve O'Brien, 50, died after being stabbed in the neck at Mayfield. Shaun Garry Johnson, 36, has been charged with murder and remains behind bars.
The sheer number of murders in the last 18 months means Newcastle Supreme Court - typically active for only a few months of the year - will be occupied with back-to-back trials for much of 2020.
And it means that other matters will have to be moved to Sydney as the wait to have a murder trial heard in Newcastle extends into 2021. There are already half a dozen Hunter accused murderers listed for trial this year, with a number of other matters expected to be committed for trial or sentence in the early part of the year.
Among those trials already scheduled include; Sayle Newson, who is accused of murdering Carly McBride at Muswellbrook in 2014, Daniel Hawkins, who allegedly shot and killed Kenneth John Denniss at Maryland, Justin Fuller, for the alleged stabbing murder of Guy Hamilton McCulloch at Belmont, Paul Russell Newburn, who allegedly murdered Glen Smith at Bolton Point, and Shane Holmes, who is accused of killing his old school friend Chad Hadden with a punch to the head in Newcastle in January, 2018.
It's been a very hard time on the family. But the 4th of May, 2020.... justice will be served.Jarryd Hayne said while leaving Newcastle courthouse in July.
And others, including Troy McCosker, accused of murdering Wade Still at Whitebridge, Timothy Whiteley, who allegedly killed a toddler at Tarro, Jamie Cust, charged with murder over the death of Jesus Bebita at Scone, Jeremy Garvey, Daniel Mahoney and Luke Jones, charged with the home invasion murder of Philip Steele at Whitebridge, Jie William Smith, accused of murdering the six-month-old boy at New Lambton, could all join them in the NSW Supreme Court in the first half of the year.
As well as those matters, David McCauley will face a sentence hearing in April for the brutal murder of Wade Still, who was twice set on fire by the side of a remote stretch of road at Whitebridge in June, 2018.
And the DPP are expected to make a decision on a constructive murder case against Brendan Cook and Timothy Onslow, who are accused of kidnapping and bashing an associate at a unit at Hamilton South before he allegedly fought back and stabbed their mate and alleged fellow kidnapper, 51-year-old Valentino Taufaao, to death.
Meanwhile, the murder of Ms Thompson and death of Mr Walton will be the subject of a coronial inquest focusing on a number of issues, including the decisions to grant Walton court-ordered parole and strict conditional bail after he was charged with stabbing another inmate at the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre.
The inquest, which could begin in 2020, is listed for another directions hearing in Sydney in February.
Justin Kent Dilosa and Carol Marie McHenry, the former couple charged over the murder of Ms Easey, will appear in Gosford Local Court this month.
The matter is still in its infancy with prosecutors yet to finalise charges against the pair.
But there was a development recently, with a third person, a 37-year-old man, charged with concealing a serious indictable offence in relation to Ms Easey's senseless murder.