THE police officer who shot and killed a mentally-ill university student as he brandished a serrated-edged bread knife has told the NSW Coroner’s Court he now has no memory of the moment when the young man was killed.
Elijah Holcombe, 24, died after being shot once in the chest by Senior Constable Andrew Rich in an Armidale laneway on June 2, 2009.
Mr Holcombe was suffering from a mental health breakdown characterised by episodes of paranoia and delusions continued when Senior Constable Rich and Senior Constable Greg Dufty were asked to find him and take him to Armidale hospital, where nursing staff feared for his welfare.
When the plain-clothes police officers found and approached Mr Holcombe, he allegedly grabbed a bread knife from a cafe and ran into a laneway.
The officer allegedly told Mr Holcombe to drop the knife and then fired a single, fatal shot.
Constable Rich said at the time he was acting in self-defence.
But Mr Holcombe’s family say the officer knew that the young man was paranoid about police.
The officer subsequently refused to give evidence at a coronial inquiry into the death on the grounds that it might “tend to prove” he had committed an offence or that he was liable to a civil penalty.
This was despite being offered a certificate which meant he would have effectively been protected from prosecution or civil action.
The matter went to the NSW Court of Appeal, which ruled that the officer must give evidence, though only within strict boundaries.
On Tuesday, nearly five years after the shooting, Constable Rich gave evidence at the inquiry.
He told the court he now has no memory of the crucial moments before and during the final, fatal moment.
“Senior Constable Rich, do you have any memory of what happened from the time you entered Cinders Ln till the time you fired the shot?” asked the counsel assisting the coroner, Jeremy Gormley.
“No,” the officer replied, choking back tears.
When asked by the coroner, Mary Jerram, when the loss of memory had taken place, Senior Constable Rich replied “over time”.
“You had memory on the day of the incident and the next day ... has it blanked out since then?” Ms Jerram asked.
“Yes,” Constable Rich replied. “There is basically nothing (I remember) from further on that day.”
The hearing continues.