A forklift driver who shot dead his defacto wife Helen Curtis in a West Footscray street has been found not guilty of murder.
Phillip Bracken, 45, broke down in tears when the Supreme Court jury acquitted him of the charges of murder, defensive homicide and manslaughter.
The jury of nine women and three men had been deliberating for nearly five days before handing down their verdict.
Mr Bracken stood in the dock and hugged his barrister, Ruth Shann, after the jury left the courtroom.
Two of Ms Curtis’ daughters left the court in tears after the verdict.
Mr Bracken had pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Curtis, 59, his defacto wife of four years in November 2012.
He claimed that he killed Ms Curtis in self-defence after having been abused, controlled, threatened and intimidated by her.
The Crown case was that Mr Bracken had taken a rifle from Ms Curtis’ car and shot her five times in the middle of a West Footscray street because he was angry at the way she had earlier abused and threatened to kill his father.
Ms Shann argued during the trial that Mr Bracken had loved his defacto but was the victim of the highest category of family violence, known as “intimate terrorism”.
“You can see in the (police) record of interview a broken man,” Ms Shann told the jury during her closing address. “A verdict of not guilty in this case doesn’t fix that.
“Guilty or not guilty, he will be responsible for the rest of his life for the fact that he killed Helen. He was partly broken by the abuse.
“He shot and killed the woman that he loved, that he adored. She was someone who lifted him out of solitude, gave him a bigger family, who he planned a future with. And he failed. He failed to make her happy, he failed to make her well, he failed to help control her anger and her rages … What happened on November 19 was a horrible and devastating act.
“But it was one that was in that terrifying moment a necessary act; necessary to protect him and his father.
“He believed it was necessary, and he really did have reasonable grounds for that belief.”
Ms Shann said Ms Curtis, who had a bipolar disorder with symptoms of anger and anxiety, did not deserve to die.
“No one deserves to die, not like that. But there is also a tragedy to Phillip’s situation and the experience that he lived with, and recognising that tragedy doesn’t diminish from the worth of Helen’s life.
“What it does is recognise the reality. It recognises the reality of the black eyes and the bruises, and the split lips, and the screaming, the kicking while he’s on the floor with shattered blood and glass.
“It recognises the illness, the rages, the control. It also recognises that he loved her and he didn’t want her dead.”
Prosecutor Peter Rose, SC, told the jury Mr Bracken was the one who produced the rifle, not Helen.
“Does he disable the weapon? Does he drop out the magazine? Throw the weapon away? Go away with the weapon? No, he doesn’t do any of those things,” Mr Rose said in his closing address.
“What he does is he unravels the cover off the weapon and at the same time he is moving in the direction of Helen Curtis and he is clearly … intent on using that weapon because he is moving towards her while he … takes the flannelette sheet off the barrel of the weapon.
“She is running at him, she gets close to him, maybe even touches him, and then he pushes her or manoeuvres in a way and she goes to ground.
“He then shoots her. Not once, not twice. The first two shots are to the head, then it’s the abdomen twice, then the wrist.”
Mr Bracken still faces one charge of possessing an unregistered firearm and was granted bail on his own undertaking.
Outside court, Ms Curtis’ daughter Jaimi-Leigh said justice had not been served.
‘‘He (Mr Bracken) gets to walk free and we have to live with this for the rest of our lives,’’ she said.
‘‘I was pregnant at the time (of the shooting) and my son never got to meet her and he’s nearly one.
‘‘Our kids have to grow up without their nan. When they get older we have to explain the way she was tragically taken from our lives.
‘‘It wasn’t family violence. (It was) a normal relationship.
‘‘Everyone fights, everyone has arguments, it’s not normal if you don’t.’’
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