A MOTHER and son will have their trials relating to charges connected to the shooting death of policeman David Rixon heard in Tamworth after a court dismissed their application for the cases to go elsewhere.
The applications were refused yesterday in Tamworth District Court after it was determined extensive local media coverage of the matters and community interest in the decorated officer’s death would not unfairly influence a local jury.
The court spent two hours hearing the arguments on behalf of the accused Sharon Strudwick and James Strudwick and whether Tamworth trials, where their alleged crimes were committed almost a year ago, would be unfair or prejudiced.
They are charged with perverting the course of justice and hindering the discovery of evidence after allegedly disposing of .38 calibre ammunition connected to the death of the Tamworth highway patrolman in March last year.
The man accused of Senior Constable Rixon’s murder, Michael Jacobs, will stand trial in Sydney in June.
His Honour Judge North formally refused the applications. He noted the application for a venue change was a discretionary matter and a high onus was on the accused to prove their matters should be heard in another court.
Confusion over a court suppression on 22-year-old James Strudwick’s name was clarified by Judge North after questioning the accused’s solicitor, Richard Wilson.
Mr Wilson said he had only requested a suppression on Strudwick’s address.
“It seems a bit strange because Sharon has been named all along,” Judge North said.
“To make it clear, their names can be used.”
Mr Wilson also spoke for Sharon Strudwick, 48, after her Sydney-based legal representatives were not able to attend the proceedings.
“I ask that the submissions I make on behalf of James apply to Sharon,” he said.
The defence argued a local jury would already know too much about the Strudwicks’ matters from “unprecedented” and “pervasive” local media reports, including coverage by The Northern Daily Leader.
Various media reports and articles were tendered to the court as well as documents outlining a regional population number of about 58,000 and the city’s problems with crime.
Mr Wilson tried to establish there was a “crisis in confidence” with policing numbers and law and order, evident from the crime petition signed by about 18,000 residents in February last year.
He said that was background to what happened just weeks later, when Senior Constable Rixon was allegedly murdered on March 2.
Mr Wilson said he was a respected and decorated officer, who grew up and worked in the community.
“Senior Constable Rixon belonged to that community and was seen as one of its protectors – of the community concerned they weren’t getting the policing resources they should have,” he said.
Mr Wilson said the alleged murder caused outrage and the community rallied behind the slain officer’s family as a result.
He said the media documented that with an “unprecedented level of interest.”
“Reports that show what’s been happening in court appear alongside human-interest pieces,” he said.
“What it shows is that feelings running high after the shooting are still high. The people of Tamworth will continue to have interest in the story and feelings of grief and sympathy for the Rixon family.”
Mr Wilson said it shouldn’t be seen as a criticism of the Tamworth community, but it could doubt the integrity of a local jury.
The Crown prosecutor said media coverage of the officer’s death extended across the state, as seen in reports by metropolitan news outlets.
Judge North found the death of the police officer was widely reported, as it should be.
“Fortunately for this state, it’s a rare event,” he said.
The Crown prosecutor read from a document that found, in an era of rapid news dissemination, it would be impossible to select a jury of 12 that hadn’t heard anything about the case.
He said, no matter where the trial would be held, a level of interest in the story had arisen.
The prosecutor said it was a long-standing convention that offences should be dealt with in the local community where they occurred.
Judge North accepted the media coverage extended across NSW, but centred in Tamworth.
“I do not find the publicity surrounding the accused of an inflammatory nature,” he said.
Judge North said a jury properly instructed in the Strudwicks’ matters would be capable of dealing with the evidence in the courtroom and not beyond.
Sharon and James Strudwick will reappear in the district court on March 6, when Tamworth trial dates are likely to be set.
A third woman has already been sentenced for her role in the murder’s aftermath.
Monica Sampson is in prison, serving a three-year jail sentence with a non-parole period of 18 months.