The out-of-sessions bail hearing took less than five minutes. The bail Justice remanded Mitch in custody until the first session of court on Monday morning. A Magistrate would then either grant bail, or further remand him in custody.
When Mitch heard the words, “I am remanding the defendant in custody to appear in the Geelong Magistrates Court on Monday…” he stopped listening. Everything else was a blur. His eyes glazed over.
His breathing quickened. “Remanded in custody” meant he was going to jail. His chest tightened. His legs were weak. He glanced towards the Detective Sergeant. The Sergeant glared back at Mitch and shrugged with indifference, then slowly shook his head at Mitch.
Concern lines filled Mitch’s face. He couldn’t help but question if he did the right thing by saying nothing in the interview? Was that why he was being remanded? Were the cops pissed off? If he’d admitted everything, told them he was defending himself and his father, would he have been charged with murder, or something less? Would he have been bailed to return home to see wife again…to hold her, to feel her support…?
Right now, he was vulnerable. The temperature in the police station was cool, yet Mitch was perspiring bullets at the thought of being locked up with actual criminals and other undesirable types.
Mitch was raised by law-abiding parents who taught him and his siblings the values of honesty and respecting the law and authority. He was not the criminal this whole process made him feel like. All he did was come to the aid of his father, albeit too late.
Mitch’s Lawyer was present during the remand hearing. Before they led Mitch away, Frank asked for a couple of minutes to consult with his client. When the police left the interview room, Frank briefly spoke with Mitch.
‘The most likely outcome in court on Monday will be a further remand. You are facing two counts of murder. The law does not allow bail to be granted for charges of Murder, despite the perceived guilt or innocence of the accused.’
Mitch sat with his head bowed. The word “Murder” resonated deeply. To him, that word stood for evil. It represented atrocity. It encompassed the actions of someone who intentionally took the life of another. That was not him. He was defending his father and himself.
When he thinks of murderers, he thinks of violent people like convicted double cop killers Bandali Debs and Jason Roberts, or rapist and murderer, Adrian Bayley. He thinks of Russell Street bomber, Craig Minogue and the evil Matthew Johnson, who was already serving thirty-years for murder when he clubbed a fellow inmate to death in jail. These were all people who were convicted of intentionally and violently killing another person or persons.
In his own mind Mitch knew he was not one of those people. How could he possibly be categorised with them? Yet he would be. And to a ‘clean skin’ like Mitch, that was as scary as it gets.
‘Two counts…? So the one who rushed at me with the machete…I’m being charged with his murder as well…?’ Mitch said as a question.
‘It appears so. I suspect they have done this because they do not have any evidence of self-defence at this stage.’
‘What the hell else could it be…they were in my Dad’s house? They killed my Dad…Do they think we invited these people in and then thought…I know, why don’t I shoot these poor innocent guys…?’
‘I’m not sure what they are thinking Mitch.’
Mitch held his glare at the Lawyer. ‘You told me to say nothing…Are you now telling me that I should’ve said something so I could claim self-defence?’
The Lawyer firmly shook his head. ’Definitely not. You did exactly what you should’ve. If you don’t say anything, the police have to mount a case against you. They have to find evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you intentionally killed these two men. The fact they are dead is not enough, especially when they are aware of your self-defence claim.’
Mitch exhaled heavily. ‘OK. So what happens on Monday when I am further remanded…? How long will I be remanded for…?’ Mitch asked. ’How long before I can defend this in court…?'
‘That will be up to the court…The police will ask for time to prepare their case, so…I expect you will initially be remanded until around September or October. Any longer and I will object.’
Mitch’s mouth fell open. He glared at his Lawyer. ‘Septem — That’s three months…Are you saying I will be in jail for three months before this even gets to court...?’
‘Unfortunately, Mitch that is the way the courts work.’
His eyes fell heavily to the floor. ‘Where will they send me?’
‘Well…because you are on Remand…you should be going to the Metropolitan Remand Centre...But nothing is for certain. It’s all about availability.’
Mitch cupped his forehead. His hand felt clammy against his skin. He knew nothing about prison, other than the stereo-type portrayed on TV and in the movies.
He’s read stories about people on remand being raped, or badly bashed. Some have even been killed while waiting for trial. His mouth was dry. His chest tightened.
His eyes were full of despair when they lifted to meet his Lawyer’s gaze. ‘How…’ Mitch’s question choked back somewhere in his throat. He cleared his throat and took a deep shuddering breath. He tried again. ‘How…’ he rolled his eyes. ‘I can’t believe I’m asking this…’ he began. ‘But, how long am I likely to get for this, if I am convicted in court?’
‘Look…the short answer is, that all depends.’
Mitch’s brow dipped into his face. ‘Depends…?’ he snapped. ‘Depends on what?’
‘It depends on the strength of the Crown’s evidence…on what they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact these men forced their way into your parent’s home, demanded your father’s car keys and killed your father…’ Frank paused when Mitch’s shoulders slumped and his head fell forward. ‘But let’s not focus on that at this moment, OK?’
Mitch’s head shot up. He glared at the Lawyer. ‘Wait…how do the cops know these men wanted the car keys if I told them I can’t remember what happened…?’
‘You remember what happened up until the shooting…Up until you saw your father lying on the floor. So you can say you recall hearing them demanding the keys from your father.’
Mitch’s eyes darted as his mind raced. ‘So…how long am I likely to get if I am convicted…?’ He asked again. His tone was firm. ‘How long am I looking at behind bars?’
‘You have to be convicted first Mitch…alright? And I have not built a successful law practice on losing cases in court.’ Frank regarded Mitch, allowing several beats to pass. ‘You let me worry about the court case, OK? I know what I’m doing.’ The Lawyer checked his watch. ’Now. You will more than likely spend the weekend here in the police station cells because the last truck to prison has long departed. That is not a bad thing. It is considerably closer for your wife to visit you here.
The Lawyer slid his business card across the table to Mitch. ‘My contact details are on there. Use my mobile number when you want to reach me.’ He stood from his chair.
Mitch’s eyes followed him up.
Frank lifted his brief case. ‘I will be in touch shortly, OK?’
Mitch watched the Lawyer leave the room. With the closing of the interview room door, he was all alone. His shoulders were hunched as his thumb and forefingers massaged the temples of his bowed head.
Reality started to hit Mitch as he stood at the watch house counter of the police station emptying out his property onto a counter. He wasn’t going home. A cop standing on the other side examined every item of property and recorded it onto a form, which Mitch later signed.
When the heavy clang of the cell door sounded behind him, followed closely by the sound of latches and locks, Mitch’s heart sank. When he stepped through that cell door he stepped into a whole new world.
It was uncomfortably cold in his cell. The air was so stale he could taste it. The lighting was dim, but not dark. Mitch surveyed the cell in a typical first-time glance. Stainless steel toilet—no seat or lid, a steel hand basin with only a cold water tap and four single beds occupied the floor space.
One-by-one his gaze met each of three other occupants staring back at him from over their bedding. No doubt, each was annoyed at the early morning disturbance. His wandering gaze stopped at his bed; a light grey, vinyl covered single mattress on a concrete slab.
He slowly moved over to the spare bed. A pillow and two neatly folded grey blankets sat at the foot of the bed. His face screwed up at the thin, heavily stained pillow. He hoped his tetanus shots were up to date.
Mitch sat on the bed with his back against the concrete wall. He pulled his knees to his chest. His eyes passed over the small confines of the cold concrete cell, his home for the next three nights—at least.
His last thoughts before he eventually went to sleep were of his wife, Alison and how she was coping knowing he was in jail.
Mitch struggled to sleep Sunday night. His mind raced at the unknown of what was going to happen to him. Despite the lack of sleep he woke early Monday morning. Not because he was excited at it being his last day in these cells, but because today was the day he fronted court and would learn of his fate. Would he be sent to a prison, or would he get bail?
Spending time locked up in the Police cells made the weekend drag. With no windows and no natural light, he had no idea of the time of day. The small brightly-lit exercise yard allowed him to stretch his legs and move around during the day with the other prisoners. But with nothing to do, nothing to challenge his mind, the minutes slowly ticked by.
He wasn’t the least bit interested in the banal, idle conversation with the other detainees, most of whom spent their time boasting with expletive filled stories about their criminal accomplishments. He was not like them, so he limited his direct contact with them by keeping to himself.
The cell door finally opened. Two cops stood in the doorway. One of them pointed to Mitch. ‘Mitchell Dunne…’ He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. ‘You’re up…’
Mitch jumped to his feet. His cell mates watched him leave. Outside, the same cop held up a pair of handcuffs. ‘We have to put these on, mate,’ the cop said.
Mitch placed his hands behind his back and turned his back to the cop. ‘Are they really necessary..?’ Mitch said. ‘I’m not a violent criminal.’
‘Hands in front will do…’ the cop directed. Mitch obliged. ‘It’s procedure mate.’
The last time Mitch was told it was procedure his hands were bagged and they took him to the police station. The cuffs were clicked into place. ‘Not too tight…?’ The cop asked.
Mitch regarded the cop. Why is he being so reasonable towards me? ‘No…No they’re fine, thanks,’ Mitch said.
The same cop escorted Mitch along a secure underground passageway from the cells to the court room located next door. As they strolled the cop said, ‘for what it’s worth, mate…any number of us back there…’ he jabbed his thumb back towards the police station, ‘would’ve done exactly the same thing you did, had we been placed in the same position.’
Mitch nodded. ‘Thanks for that. I appreciate it. But from what I understand…the court won’t be as sympathetic,’ Mitch said.
‘No, unfortunately…you’re right. This is where the law is screwed up. A bloke like you…by that I mean a decent bloke…’ the cop clarified, ‘gets attacked in your own home, so you are forced to defend yourself…and in doing so, you actually do society a huge favour by eradicating some of these vermin… and now you have to face court to defend your actions.’ The cop shook his head. He continued. ‘From what I understand, if you didn’t shoot one of them, he would’ve carved you up with a machete…Is that right?’
Mitch checked his surrounds. ‘Are we able to talk freely down here…? We’re not…we’re not being recorded, are we…?’
‘Absolutely not…It’s just you and me...’
Mitch nodded. ‘That’s right. One rushed at me with a machete…the other with a hammer…’
‘And those are the ones that you shot…yeah?’ The cop said as a question.
Mitch was cautious about what he should admit. Could any comments I make be used against me at a later time? He allowed several beats to pass before responding. ‘That’s right.’
‘Good…They deserved it.’ The cop must’ve had a re-think about his cold comments. ’Look, I’m not racist. I don’t dislike all Sudanese…But these ones that are running around committing violent crimes…breaking into people’s homes while the victims are at home…disrespecting our laws…the ones that are out of control…these ones I hate,’ the cop said.
‘I understand. You are no doubt regularly exposed to it.’
The cop nodded. ‘Mostly the aftermath of what they have done. We have to console the poor victims. We have to reassure them that the police are on top of this type of offending. It is incredibly frustrating to see how these offenders have no regard for the law, or fear of consequences,’ the cop said.
He sounded to Mitch like he was venting. ‘Why is that…? Why don’t they fear jail…?’ Mitch said. ‘I know I am. I’m shittin’ myself at the thought of it.’
‘They don’t fear jail because they don’t get jail… and they all know it. They are all under twenty, some as young as fourteen. They come from disadvantaged backgrounds and when we do catch them and front them before a court, they get a stern warning, some might get a community corrections order, but regardless, they walk straight back out onto the streets and do it all again.’
Several seconds of silence passed before anyone spoke again. Mitch spoke next. ‘How long will all this take…?’ Mitch said.
‘The bail and remand applications are always on first, before the actual cases begin. So you will be in and out in no time.’
Like the cop said, the remand hearing was quick. Mitch’s Lawyer, Frank Morgan represented Mitch. The Lawyer argued Mitch acted in self-defence of his life and that of his now deceased father when five men forced their way into his father’s home.
The police Prosecutor argued that there was no evidence at this time to indicate the shootings were self-defence. He made sure the Magistrate was aware Mitch made a ‘No Comment’ interview.
Mr Morgan jumped to his feet in Mitch’s defence. ’My client made a ‘no comment’ interview Your Honour, because he was under considerable stress having witnessed the murder of his father by the same people who later attacked my client with a machete and a hammer. And it was because of this stress that his memory failed him. He simply could not recall what happened and he told this to the arresting police.’ The Lawyer gestured towards the Prosecutor. ‘He wasn’t trying to be difficult.’
Despite his Lawyer’s best attempts, the outcome was as expected. The Magistrate remanded Mitch in custody, to reappear in court for a committal hearing on 28 September.
The Magistrate’s words fell heavily on Mitch. He expected he would probably be remanded, but deep down, he hoped the law would acknowledge that he was the victim here and grant him bail. It was not to be.
Mitch turned towards Alison and his mother seated in the public gallery. Alison’s hand covered her mouth. They both looked distressed. Alison was crying. It tore him up to see her like that.
His eyes welled up as he mouthed the words, ‘I’m sorry’, to Alison. Not because he thought he did anything wrong, but because she had to be put through this. It was equally stressful for both his wife and his mother seeing him like that.
With his head bowed and his hands cuffed in front, Mitch left the court room with his police escort via the door reserved for prisoners in custody, on his way back to the police station cells. From there, he would wait for a prison van to take him to jail.