The jury in the trial over David Hookes’ death this week heard widely differing accounts of that fateful summer night, writes Karen Kissane.
JONATHON Porter didn’t see what happened to David Hookes at the end. His view was obscured by the rest of the people in the rowdy group walking down a St Kilda street on that warm summer night. But he did hear what happened, he told the Supreme Court this week.
“(There were) feet scraping the ground and then the sound of fist hitting flesh and then the sound of ” – his voice broke – “then the sound of a breaking bone.” Porter had no doubt about that sound; as a physiotherapist with the South Australian cricket team, he had heard bones break before. As for the punch: “It was very loud, I could hear it from a distance . . . It sounded much louder than me striking my fist in my hand.”
He raced forward to find Hookes, Victoria’s cricket coach and a radio broadcaster, lying on his back. His eyes were open but his pupils unresponsive. Porter cleared Hookes’ airway and laid him on his side. When Hookes’ thready pulse disappeared, Porter prepared to start cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. It was unnecessary, he told the court, as the ambulance had arrived. Standing in the witness box, Porter wiped away a tear and clasped his trembling hands together. All his efforts had been in vain; Hookes, 48, died from head injuries the next day.
It is undisputed that the man who struck the fatal blow is Zdravko Micevic, now 23, then a security officer at the Beaconsfield Hotel where Hookes had been celebrating a Victorian win in a one-day match against South Australia with a group of friends.
The group included Victorian cricketers Michael Lewis and Robert Cassell and Cricket Victoria staff Shaun Graf and Greg Shipperd, as well as South Australian batsman Darren Lehmann and coach Wayne Phillips. The three women in the group included the then girlfriends of Hookes and Lewis.
But there is much dispute over the events leading to the deadly punch in the face; in particular, the truth about the curious incident of the brawl in the night-time. Did it happen, or did it not? And if it did, does this mean Micevic, who is charged with manslaughter, threw the punch in lawful self-defence, as his lawyers claim?
There are two widely differing sets of accounts about Hookes and his cricketing group’s behaviour on that night, January 18, 2004, and in court this week senior cricketing figures faced accusations about lack of truthfulness.
At one point, defence barrister Terry Forrest, QC, said to Shaun Graf,Cricket Victoria’s general manager of cricker operations: “I suggest to you, Mr Graf, that you are not being entirely frank with us?”
Graf replied: “Mate, I can tell you, I swore on the Bible and I’ve been telling the truth.”
The general thrust of the cricketing group’s story is that they behaved well but hotel bouncers were unnecessarily rude and aggressive and forcibly ejected Hookes for no good reason. The security staff continued to harass him all the way up to a corner of Cowderoy Street, with friends trying to intervene to release him and promising repeatedly that they were leaving. The prosecutor, Ray Elston, SC, says Micevic threw the fatal punch just as Hookes was about to get into a car to leave.
The defence paints a different picture. Lawyer Terry Forrest claimed that Hookes was abusive to security staff in the hotel and resisted ejection, and that “two ladies launched themselves” on to the crowd controller who tried to march Hookes out of the hotel in a headlock. The defence says the cricketing group was cursing loudly in the street and that they resisted being moved on. Forrest said evidence would be led that residents of the street at one point saw a brawl between two men in their 40s while a group of younger men stood around them.
The defence case is that bouncers were merely trying to keep the peace and usher the troublesome group away from the hotel, and that a belligerent, defiant Hookes punched Micevic twice before Micevic – a former amateur boxer – struck back.
The contradictory assertions begin with accounts of the call for last drinks by security staff about 11.30pm. Both sides agree that a bouncer approached Hookes, who was drinking with an intoxicated Sue-Anne Hunter, then girlfriend to cricketer Michael Lewis. (Hunter and Lewis had had a row and Lewis was waiting for her in a car outside).
Hunter and another woman present, Tania Plumpton, told the court that the bouncer said: “Tell the bitch to skol her drink.” Hunter told the court that she said nothing in reply, but that Hookes told the bouncer that that was no way to speak to a lady.
Defence counsel Forrest gave the court a different account. He said the crowd controller had courteously asked the two to finish their drinks but that Hookes’ response was to tell the bouncer, “F— you”. The bouncer replied, “Look, mate, there’s no need for that, just move outside”. And Hookes then said, “Do you want me to repeat myself? F— you. F–k you.” It was only then, Forrest asserted, that Micevic took hold of Hookes.
It is common ground that Hookes was grabbed and marched out the front door, but the issue of involvement by others is in dispute.
According to the evidence of bouncers and other staff, a woman threw herself at the back of the bouncer ejecting Hookes and women were screaming loudly during the ejection.
Plumpton, a “cricket nut” and long-time fan of Hookes, denied that she had broken the tips of her fingernails because she tore off a crowd controller’s tag when trying to free Hookes from his hold. She also denied slapping the bouncer’s face. She agreed that she had tried to pull the bouncer’s arm away, however, in an attempt to ensure Hookes could breathe safely.
Hunter said she did not recall whether she had “launched herself” on to a bouncer in the bar or how her glasses had been broken. Hunter said she had not heard swearing or seen fighting outside the hotel and had no memory of walking up the street to where Hookes was felled. She did not recall telling security staff that she would sue them.
Forrest asked her: “From the time that you are in the bar area of the hotel until the time that you see Mr Hookes lying on the roadway you have a complete state of amnesia?”
“Correct . . .”
“Alcohol was a factor in your presentation on that evening, wasn’t it?”
“But your recollections of what you say were offensive about the security men are quite specific, aren’t they?”
“Is it the case that you do not want to tell us what occurred in Cowderoy Street?”
“That’s not correct.”
Forrest questioned Lehmann about a Sunday Age article in which he had said that he had blocked out of his mind various events of that evening.
Forrest said: “So if there is evidence to this court that you were involved in the application of physical force on the security staff within the hotel you deny that?”
“I would deny that, yes.”
“Is that something you may have blocked out, Mr Lehmann?”
“I don’t think I’d forget that, no.”
Several members of the cricketing group said they had not heard Hookes threatening bouncers outside the hotel with the loss of their livelihood. According to Forrest, Hookes had yelled: “You listen to the radio tomorrow. Your heads will f—ing spin. You don’t know who I am. I’m going to close this place down. You’re f—ed. You won’t have a job tomorrow.”
But Phillips agreed that Hookes had resisted leaving because he wanted to stay and “argue the toss”, and said he had heard some reference to the effect that Hookes would try to have the business closed down by giving it bad publicity on the radio.
Graf said he had not heard this. In cross-examination, Forrest asked him: “You, Mr Graf, during this entire evening, you don’t see one aggressive act from the cricketing group or hear one aggressive word; is that the position?”
But several cricketers and bouncers testified that there had been much pushing and shoving and bad language by members of both groups as the security officers tried to move the group away from the hotel.
Plumpton said that at one point she had her hands on a security officer’s chest when he leaned over her and threatened Hookes: “He said that David was a smart-arse and that he was going to effing-well kill him.”
Hookes had been close to being saved. His girlfriend Christine Padfield had run for her car and pulled it up near the group and yelled at Hookes to get in. Plumpton climbed into the back seat first. By the time she got there, Hookes was on the ground.
According to the cricketing group, he did not make it to the car because bouncers would not let him be. According to Forrest, it was because he again stayed to argue the toss.
Hookes’ widow, Robyn, and her two adult children sat in the front bench of the court nearest the jury each day this week. Robyn Hookes sometimes watched and sometimes averted her gaze from the witness box as the other woman who had loved her husband told of her ill-fated attempt to save the man in both their lives.
The trial continues before Justice Philip Cummins and a jury of six women and six men.
First published in The Age.