JUSTIN Fuller has been found not guilty of murder over the stabbing death of Guy McCulloch at Belmont South, with a jury accepting at least some of Fuller's version about how the stabbing occurred and finding that he was either provoked or acting in self-defence.
Fuller, now 33, admitted to killing Mr McCulloch, 50, and had pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the stabbing in Beach Street in December, 2018.
But he pleaded not guilty to murder, denying he had intended to kill or seriously injure Mr McCulloch and raised the partial defence of both excessive self-defence and extreme provocation.
It wasn't a road-rage incident or a random attack, instead the confrontation that sparked in Beach Street on December 19, 2018, occurred in the context of a long-running and bitter family feud.
It started when Fuller and his then partner, Narelle Abercrombie, drove past Mr McCulloch and his partner, Fuller's half-sister Kristy Duley, and Ms Duley called out "tick tock", a phrase, intended to be ominous, she often called out to Fuller and those close to him.
The pair kept driving but Fuller returned to Beach Street on foot, with Ms Abercrombie following him in the car. An important issue for the jury to determine and one that would change the context of the whole confrontation was whether Fuller had punched Ms Duley in the head through the car window before the stabbing. Ms Duley had given evidence that the assault was what prompted Mr McCulloch to twice reverse his car into Fuller's vehicle. Fuller denied punching his half-sister and said the sudden reversal, which significantly damaged his car, was unprovoked.
Fuller then fled on foot, grabbed a backpack containing two large knives from his home nearby and returned to Beach Street.
What happened next was the central issue in the trial and hotly disputed between the parties. The undisputed end result was that Fuller used the two knives to repeatedly stab Mr McCulloch in the chest and stomach as the older man, trapped in his seatbelt, screamed for help.
The prosecution said Fuller had returned to Beach Street with the intention of attacking Mr McCulloch and had lost his temper but, importantly, had not lost self-control.
However, during his evidence last week Fuller claimed that immediately before the stabbing Mr McCulloch had reversed his car a third time, this time swerving harshly towards him and trying to run him over.
Fuller's defence barrister, Winston Terracini, SC, had pointed to a 6.4 metre skidmark on the road which was in front of Mr McCulloch's vehicle to show that Mr McCulloch must have reversed again before the stabbing.
Fuller also gave a version, labelled "very, very implausible" by Crown prosecutor John Stanhope, that, while clinging to the side of Mr McCulloch's car, he had momentarily forgotten he was holding the two 30-centimetre blades and had intended to punch Mr McCulloch through the window and not stab him.
As well as the self-defence claim, Fuller said that the long-running family dispute with his half-sister, which he said included years of threats and multiple acts of arson, had culminated in the chaotic confrontation and had caused him to lose self-control and lash out at Mr McCulloch.
And on Wednesday after hearing two weeks of evidence and addresses and after deliberating for a little over 11 hours, the jury returned to Newcastle Supreme Court and found Fuller not guilty of murder.
Fuller mouthed the words "thank you" after the verdict was delivered and family members of Mr McCulloch responded angrily, storming out of the court.
The jury's verdict means they must have accepted the crucial parts of Fuller's account about how the stabbing occurred as well as finding the prosecution had not disproven beyond reasonable doubt that he was acting in self-defence or had been provoked as a result of the long-running feud with his half-sister.
The proceedings were a re-trial after the first trial was aborted six days into the evidence when two witnesses in the trial, as well as at least one other member of the public who had nothing to do with the matter, posted inflammatory and potentially prejudicial comments on social media.
The proceedings were also the first Supreme Court jury trial in NSW to commence during the COVID-19 restrictions, with jurors socially distanced around the courtroom and spaces in the public gallery limited.
Fuller, who has remained behind bars since December, 2018, will be sentenced for manslaughter in October.
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