A JURY has cleared a Tamworth man of murder, but has found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter almost two years to the day after the drunken street fight.
Steven John Johnson let out a loud sigh of relief in the NSW Supreme Court in Tamworth on Friday afternoon after he was found not guilty of the murder of Kenny Matthews.
The verdict came after two full days of deliberations by the jury of seven men and five women, following a six week trial in Tamworth.
The officer-in-charge of the case, Detective Senior Constable Aaron Greenwood, supported the family of Mr Matthews after the verdicts were read out.
The family told The Leader they were relieved it was all over, giving the manslaughter verdict the thumbs up.
Very happy, very happy.Family of Mr Matthews
“Very happy, very happy,” Mr Matthew’s sister said as the family rushed out of court.
Mr Matthews died in Tamworth hospital almost 24 hours after the May 15, 2015, street fight that spilled onto Goonoo Goonoo Rd, South Tamworth.
An unhealthy man, Mr Matthews had abused alcohol for a long period and suffered several medical conditions.
The 52-year-old died as a result of internal bleeding into his abdominal cavity after small lacerations to his spleen had increased, which the Crown had maintained was the result of the bashing.
The Crown’s key witnesses in the trial, Shannon Johnson, who is also the sister of the accused and who’s Bilkurra St unit the drunken argument first erupted in, left the court in tears after saying goodbye to her brother.
Johnson has been behind bars since his arrest, shortly after the death of Mr Matthews on May 16, 2015.
He thanked his barrister and solicitor before he was led away by Corrective Services officials, to be taken back to the Tamworth Correctional Centre – where he has been housed throughout the six-week murder trial.
Johnson has history of violence
Justice Richard Button said because the trial “had been conducted in Tamworth”, “the sentence should be conducted and conclude in Tamworth.”
There is a flavour of violence on his criminal record.Justice Richard Button
“There is a flavour of violence on his criminal record,” he said after examining a copy of Johnson’s record, tendered by Crown prosecutor Lee Carr.
Justice Button declined to order a pre-sentence report but told defence barrister Chris Taylor he could request a psychological report ahead of sentencing.
Sentencing submissions will begin at a hearing for Johnson on August 30 before a sentence is handed down in Tamworth in September.
"It can be understood the offender’s bail is refused by me .... until sentence,” Justice Button said.
It can be understood the offender’s bail is refused by me .... until sentence.Justice Richard Button
Justice Button thanked the 12 jurors, telling them he was “acutely aware you have sacrificed busy personal and professional lives to do your civic service”, and told them they would be removed from the jury roll for 10 years.
Crown versus defence arguments
Mr Carr said the Crown’s case against Johnson relied upon “an intention to inflict grievous bodily harm … really serious harm”.
Mr Taylor had argued there was no proof of a specific punch or kick by Johnson that caused the injuries to Mr Matthew’s spleen, which led to the internal bleeding, and ultimately his death.
Mr Taylor told the jury that for 12 hours after he left the scene of the altercation, Mr Matthews drank alcohol and took methamphetamine and cannabis, but there was a period where he was alone.
He said the deceased “was in effect unaccounted for … when he left the scene to source drugs … to score some pot".
Mr Taylor said the injuries to the deceased could have occurred then if he had “fallen over”.
Detectives interview Mr Matthews in hospital
Before Mr Matthews died, he gave police an interview on his deathbed, telling them he had been assaulted by Steven Johnson.
The court heard the two eye-witnesses to the fight were Johnson’s sister, Shannon Johnson, and Stephen James Johnson, who is known as “Spider” to friends, and is four years older.
The jury heard medical evidence that Mr Matthews had eight litres of blood in his abdominal cavity which was “grossly enlarged”.
An average male adult spleen was about 140g in size, but Mr Matthews’ was 1.2kg, the jury was told.
Verdicts read out
A Tamworth man has been found not guilty of murder after the bashing death of an associate in 2015.
After two full days of deliberations, the jury in the trial of Steven John Johnson in the NSW Supreme Court in Tamworth found Johnson not guilty of murder, but guilty of the manslaughter of 52-year-old Kenny Matthews.
After the verdict, the family of Mr Matthews told The Leader they were relieved it was all over, giving the verdict the thumbs up.
“Very happy, very happy,” Mr Matthew’s sister said as the family left court.
The jury have been deliberating since Wednesday afternoon and returned a verdict shortly before 2pm on Friday.
It followed a six week trial in Tamworth.
Johnson and Mr Matthews were involved in a punch-up about 7pm that spilled onto Goonoo Goonoo Rd after a drinking session in a Bilkurra St unit on Friday May 15, 2015.
The jury was told Mr Matthews died in Tamworth hospital the day after the fight as a result of internal bleeding into his abdominal cavity after small lacerations to his spleen had increased.