ERIN Margach is 10 years old. Yesterday she sat and watched a videotape of herself in which she told a policewoman about what she had seen the night her father killed her mother.
In the tape made four days after her mother’s death, and played to the Supreme Court yesterday, Erin, then eight, was dressed in red tracksuit pants and a white top with her hair in an alice band. She folded her hands tightly in her lap as she told her story in one long narrative with few prompts.
She started her account with the night before the killing, when her mother, Tina, and father, Paul, argued over whether to end their marriage because of her mother’s brief flirtation with another man. Her father punched her mother in the face, she said. The following night, Erin heard her parents arguing in the kitchen and her mother saying: “I’m just going to pack my bags.”
Her father said: “No, I want you to stay here.”
Her mother replied: “You are just an idiot!”
Erin’s younger sister Bree, then four, wanted to go to her parents but Erin told her, “Don’t go out because it’s only adults.” Then she heard her mother call out “Erin!” from the kitchen.
“She was yelling and screaming ‘Ah help!’ and I rushed out because I thought it was an emergency. Dad was waving a knife around and he wanted to stab her but he was missing. He must have stabbed her once or twice because there was blood everywhere, like on her arms and legs and body.
“Bree was crying really badly and she just rushed in her room and I was the only one. I was yelling out ‘Don’t!’ in a really loud voice at the top of my lungs. I thought I could rush over and pull him away from her but I was too scared because he had this really scary face on.”
Her mother “started moving around and kicking him off her and saying, ‘Get away!’ She was laying down horizontal (on a couch) . . . She kicked him in the stomach to get off and she kicked him in the hands so the knife wouldn’t go near . . . Wherever she moved, he moved, just putting the knife near her.”
When her father moved away, her mother “put her her hand on her heart to see if it was still beating . . . and she started to close her eyes and she went all white. And Dad rushed over and said, ‘What’s happening? I have to call the ambulance’.”
Erin raced into her bedroom to call her grandmother to ask her to come “really, really quickly”, but had trouble getting through. “I heard my Dad saying hello to emergency and then I hanged up . . . (I was thinking) this is just a dream, this is not happening.”
She went back to her mother in the kitchen. “I felt her head and she was, like, cold or something. I got a glass of water and just put it on her face to cool her down . . . and then I put some water in her mouth and she took a breath and when I stopped she went (Erin sighs) like that.”
The operator on the emergency line told Erin to get a towel and press it down where her mother was bleeding. “Her whole body was bleeding and I pushed down on her arms and her heart but when I was putting it in all different places she was going like that (Erin exhales heavily again).”
Erin saw blood on her mother’s face as well but “I thought if I put it over her face she might suffocate and stop breathing . . . Dad was yelling ‘Where’s the ambulance?’ and walking around and stomping and said he was about to punch something . . . Then I said, ‘Could you help me?’ but he didn’t listen. He was yelling really loud.”
Erin was composed both in her police interview and when she was being examined by remote video link in court yesterday. But on the fateful night she swung between panic and practicality in the emergency call, an audio tape of which was also played to the court. The court heard Mr Margach sob as he begged for aid, and his children screamed in the background.
The operator called Erin to the phone when Mr Margach was too distraught to take in her instructions. Erin politely said “Pardon?” or “Excuse me?” whenever she had trouble understanding the emergency operator, but screamed at her father to get the towel and screamed at her mother, “Mum, Mum, oh please!”
Erin: “The ambulance are here, but she’s not waking.”
Erin: “It’s never happened to me.”
Operator: “No, I know it’s never happened to you, darling.”
Erin later told a policewoman in her interview: “I felt a little prickly from seeing all that. I felt a little bit sick.” When Erin Margach was taken to a neighbour’s house after it was all over, she vomited.
Paul Jason Margach has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Tina Maree Margach in Hurtle Street, Ascot Vale on October 15, 2004.
The trial continues before Justice Betty King.
First published in The Age.