Harsh Consequences

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Chapter 29

Frank suggested to Mitch that they relocate to one of the interview rooms outside the court room, to discuss the case. Permission was granted, however a corrections officer stood guard outside the small room.

Alison met Mitch in the aisle as Frank and Mitch made their way through the public seating area, towards the rear door. Mitch and Alison kissed and embraced. While holding his embrace Mitch said, ‘Is my wife able to come with us, Frank?’

‘Of course…’

Mitch placed his arm around Alison and they all made their way to the interview room located off the court foyer.

Frank was last into the room. He slid the external sign outside the room to “Interview in Progress”, then closed the door behind him as he entered. Mitch’s read on his Lawyer’s body language was that he was not confident.

While Frank sorted through his notes Mitch said to Alison, seated beside him, ‘I must say, I was surprised Fitzy didn’t come with you to see my case…’

Alison’s head dropped. Her eyes welled. This was the moment she dreaded. She hadn’t known Fitzy for very long and she knew how upset she was. She could only imagine how Mitch would be when he found out the horrible news about Fitzy.

Mitch noticed Alison’s reaction. His face tightened. ‘What’s wrong…?’

Alison’s eyes met Mitch’s. Her chin quivered. Tears ran from her eyes. ‘Fitzy’s dead, Mitch…’ she said before breaking down and crying.

Mitch’s mouth fell open. He hugged his wife while his stunned gaze was fixed straight ahead at nothing in particular. ‘Dead…?’ He said. His face was distorted from confusion.

Alison sobbed into his shoulder. She nodded. ‘He died last night…’

Mitch was stunned. He was looking forward to catching up with his good friend. ‘I don’t understand. How?’

Alison’s head lifted from his shoulder. She looked into his eyes. ‘The police came to our home this morning trying to find relatives of Jack’s. They said he witnessed three men assaulting another driver on the side of the road. I think they said it was the Ring Road in Melbourne. Apparently Jack pulled over to help the man in trouble and one of the attackers stabbed him in the back. The police said he died in hospital from the stab wounds…I’m so sorry Mitch…’

Mitch’s face was devoid of emotion or any reaction. He was in shock. His vague stare was fixed on nothing in particular. He frowned. ‘Wait…’ his focus shifted to his teary eyed wife. ’Did you say three men…? Did you say he witnessed three men assaulting another driver…?’

‘Yes. That is what the police said to me.’

Mitch remembered Fitzy told him he knew who the ankles were and where he could find them. He now worried that it was these ankles who killed his best friend. ‘Where these three men, African…?’

‘The police didn’t say, Mitch.’ Alison regarded her husband. ‘Why do you ask that…?’

Mitch shrugged. ‘No reason.’ He didn’t want to tell Alison that Fitzy was hunting the remaining men who killed Mitch’s mother and father. The fact Fitzy stopped to assist what was probably a carjacking and the fact there were three of these men, suggested to Mitch these were the men Fitzy was following. ‘Did they catch the men who stabbed Fitzy?’

Alison shook her head. Mitch rolled his disappointed eyes and his head lolled to the side.

‘They’re all dead, Mitch.’ Mitch’s head shot up to Alison. His frowning glare questioned her comment. She nodded. ‘The police said these men attacked Jack and while he was defending himself, he actually killed them all, but he was stabbed in the process.’

Mitch slumped back in his chair. If Fitzy went as far as killing these men, they were not random attackers. They had to be the three men who fled from his parent’s house the night his father was killed. They had to be the three ankles Mitch wanted Fitzy to find for killing his mother.

‘I had the strangest call from someone this morning, Mitch…’ Alison said. ‘He said he was the driver Jack saved from these attackers...’

Mitch's brow furrowed. 'How did he get your number…? How did he know who you were?’

‘He said Jack gave him my number and he asked the man to give me a message. But I still don’t understand what the message means.’

‘What was the message?’

‘Um…It was something about…his ankles are better, or something.’

Mitch’s brows arched. ‘Is that what the man actually said? Think hard. What was the exact message?’

Alison focussed as she tried to recall the message. ‘Um…The man said that Jack said to tell me…he had fixed up his ankles…’ Alison shook her head. ‘I don’t understand why Jack asked this stranger to call me and tell me his ankles were better when he was suffering from a stab wound. The man also said he didn’t know what this cryptic message meant.’

There was the confirmation Mitch needed. It was the men he wanted Fitzy to find. Mitch cupped his forehead as the news took hold. Fitzy must’ve known he wasn’t going to make it, so he asked the man to pass on the message, knowing it would end up with Mitch.

Fitzy did so much for Mitch during their time in prison and he continued that support for Mitch on the outside. It was this loyal support that brought about his eventual undoing. He was a true friend; a rare find in this day and time.

Tears welled in Mitch's eyes. His good friend was killed while helping him right some horrible wrongs. His guilt-filled eyes fell heavily to the floor. He would never see his good friend again. He rubbed a hand across his mouth and chin.

Frank sat silently through this exchange of information, patiently watching, listening as everything unfolded.

Mitch’s glazed stare was straight ahead as he said, ‘Fitzy survived three tours overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq…fighting in areas of conflict in an elite Special Forces group…’ Mitch said to no one in particular. He slowly shook a disbelieving head. ‘He survives all that and eventually comes home to his own country…a place where he should feel safe and secure and some bastard stabs him in the back…’ Mitch said. ‘And that is how he dies…’ He shook his head at the irony of the situation. ‘There is no justice in this world...’

‘Speaking of justice…’ Frank interjected. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt what is clearly some very distressing news…but do you feel up to discussing your case?’

Mitch rubbed a hand through his hair. He exhaled heavily as he nodded once. At that moment, the relevance of his court case outcome paled by comparison to hearing about the death of his good friend. Mitch rubbed a hand across his mouth. ‘OK…what’s your thoughts…? Do I have a chance at beating this…?’

Frank exhaled heavily as he shuffled some papers on the desk in front of him.

‘If am to be honest…I really have no idea which way this will go…’

All present in court room two stood while the ageing Magistrate shuffled his way up the three or four steps to his elevated mahogany bench.

Following a perfunctory bow, the Magistrate lowered himself into his leather high-backed chair. Those present in the court followed his lead and returned to their seats.

The Magistrate added to the theatre of the occasion by silently shuffling pages in front of him, while everyone waited, anxious to hear his decision. Following an extended delay, the Magistrate began his summation.

'The evidence before the court today is that five men, all of African appearance, followed the accused from the Princes Highway, near Little River, to his parents address at 14 Hillview Court in Highton. They later entered the address at 14 Hillview Court and assaulted Mr Max Dunne, striking him with a hammer. Mr Dunne later died from injuries sustained during this attack.

'The Prosecution has provided evidence that following this attack on his father, the accused fired a shot at the victim, Majok Majok, striking the victim in the back, as Mr Majok was running from the premises.

'Mr Majok later died from these gunshot injuries. This evidence was not disputed by the defence.

'I find it interesting, if not a little puzzling that the Defence did not present a case of lawful self-defence. Instead, their case relied solely on the evidence of Doctor Murray Vance, an experienced Psychiatrist, who stated that in his opinion, the accused experienced dissociation at the time and his actions were done so during a detachment from reality.

'It is not my position, or the position of this court to find in relation to the accused’s guilt or innocence. My job is to determine if there has been sufficient evidence presented to this court to commit the matter to stand trial, to be heard before a Judge and Jury.

'So the question before me today comes down to the accused’s state of mind at the time. For this case to proceed with a charge of murder, the court has to be satisfied the accused was not only capable of forming the intent to kill, but that he actually formed that intent to kill when he shot Mr Majok.

'I have considered the evidence at length and my decision is not reached lightly. The evidence before the court today shows that the accused’s actions of shooting Mr Majok Majok could be considered deliberate and intentional. The accused chased the fleeing co-offenders, while he still carried the shot gun he used to shoot Mr Majok. No evidence has been presented that the accused fired, or intended to fire the shot gun he carried. The accused then returned and assaulted Mr Majok by striking him in the head with the butt of the shot gun, while Mr Majok lie bleeding on the ground.

‘These actions suggest the accused had formed an emotional dislike to the man he had just witnessed kill his father. But that neither gave him a lawful right, or an excuse to do what he did…. His actions were deliberate when he shot Mr Majok in the back and then later rammed the butt of the shotgun into Mr Majok’s face. These actions demonstrated anger against Mr Majok.’

Mitch’s heart sank. All he could think was, looks like I will be returning to Port Philip Prison. His shoulders slumped. He turned to glance back at Alison. When their eyes met, his mouth inverted and he slowly shook his head.

’The evidence presented to this court by Doctor Vance, a credible and capable expert witness in his field of psychiatry, provided a learned opinion that the accused, at the time of offending, had suffered severe psychological trauma and was not capable of forming this emotional dislike I spoke of, or any intent to kill Mr Majok. This is expert opinion that must be weighed against all other available evidence to determine the accused’s state of mind at the time of the alleged offending.

The Magistrate paused while he shuffled papers in front of himself. He appeared to be reading something. After a lengthy pause he continued.

’The actions of the accused, as presented to the court here today, show actions that would reasonably be considered as deliberate and intentional. And for someone to behave in this manner, on the face of it, would be expected to know what he was doing at the time.

'Having said that, it is the opinion of a qualified and experienced Doctor that the actions of the accused, despite how deliberate or intentional they appeared to be, particularly on CCTV evidence provided, were actions of a person who did not know what he was doing at the time.

'In this case, the court accepts the evidence of the expert witness, Doctor Vance. Therefore I find, based on the evidence before me today, the accused, Mitchell Dunne was not capable of forming an intent to kill Mr Majok, due to the psychological trauma he suffered through witnessing his father’s murder.

'By being satisfied the accused was unable to form this intent, which is an essential element in proving the offence of murder, I am dismissing all charges against the accused. You are free to go, Mr Dunne. This court is adjourned.’

Mitch’s head shot up. His jaw dropped as he watched the Magistrate stand and amble down the steps from the bench, while the words, “Free to go” resonated with him. Those wonderful words bounced around inside his head.

His open-mouthed focus snapped to his Lawyer, who smiled back at him. ‘Free to go…?’ Mitch repeated with arching eyebrows.

Frank nodded once. ‘Free to go...’ he said. ‘You are free to get on with living your life…’ He jabbed his head towards Alison. ‘Go see your wife.’

Mitch jumped from his chair. He turned towards Alison seated in the public gallery. Alison’s hands were over her mouth. Mitch couldn’t contain his excitement. He pumped his fists into the air in a victory salute.

Frank flicked a hand towards Alison. ‘Go…’ he said.

Mitch raced towards Alison. He hugged her tightly as he lifted her up and pirouetted her around in the aisle.

A smiling Frank ambled up to the celebrating couple. His smile was one of satisfaction. Mitch noticed Frank approaching. He released his embrace on Alison and moved towards Frank. ‘Here he is…’ Mitch said. He extended his hand. ‘You are a legend, Frank.’ Frank accepted the hand shake and the glowing compliments with a smile.

Mitch rubbed his hands together. ‘There are two things that I missed while in prison…’ He smiled when his eyes met Alison’s. ‘Well…three,’ he said as he hugged Alison. ‘But I can only share two of them…’ He said with a grin. Mitch held up a thumb, ‘a big fat steak…’ he held up a finger, ’and a cold beer. ‘Will you join us for lunch, Frank? My treat.’

‘I’d love to. We just have to sort out your release paperwork first, then we’re good to go,’ Frank said.

When Mitch eventually had the time to gather his thoughts and contain his excitement of never having to set foot back inside that prison, he realised that everything that was linked to the nightmare he had lived for the past three months was now gone.

Two of the men who murdered his father – gone.

The three accomplices who murdered his mother when they burned down her house- gone.

His good friend whom he met in prison and who was an unwilling, but friendly participant in his nightmare, was unfortunately gone.

This chapter of his life could now be closed. The only reminders that remained were the tragic losses he suffered along the way; both his parents, and his good friend Fitzy. They would never be wiped from his memory.

With there being no known family of Fitzy, Alison and Mitch took care of the burial arrangements. They buried Fitzy in a Geelong cemetery, close to Mitch and Alison. Mitch owed his good friend so much, it was the least he could do. Alison agreed.

There was no fanfare befitting a decorated war hero. There was no funeral attended by mourning family and friends. There was just a burial. On the headstone the inscription read, “...An Australian Army Special Forces Hero…and loyal friend to Mitch - Who Dares Wins".

To this day, on an occasional sunny weekend, Mitch could be seen lounging beside Fitzy’s gravesite with two stubbies of beer, one of which symbolically sat nestled on top of the headstone, while Mitch consumed the other.

It was Mitch’s way of sharing that beer he and Fitzy looked forward to, but never got the chance to have together.

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