An apprentice chef has been found not guilty of murdering a burglar and convicted rapist he found inside his Newcastle home.
A Newcastle Supreme Court jury on Wednesday accepted Benjamin Batterham’s claim he was making a citizen’s arrest in March 2016 when he chased Ricky Slater, tackled him, put him in a chokehold and repeatedly punched him in the head until police arrived.
Mr Slater – who had scarring to his heart because of regular drug use, suffered liver disease and was obese – suffered a cardiac arrest following the attack but was revived by paramedics.
Mr Slater had another two cardiac arrests in hospital and died the next day.
The jury on Wednesday found Mr Batterham, 35, who spent two months in prison after his arrest before being granted bail, not guilty of murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Mr Batterham smiled and nodded to the jury when the verdict was handed down. It had been deliberating since 1pm on Tuesday after a two-week trial.
Mr Slater’s mother, Beryl Dickson, walked out of the courtroom immediately after the jury’s verdict.
Defence barrister Winston Terracini SC had argued Mr Batterham had every legal right to do what he did and there was no proof his actions had caused Mr Slater’s death.
The only reason Mr Batterham had chased and tackled Ms Slater was because “the deceased man wanted to be a thief”, Mr Terracini said, and had tried to run from Mr Batterham to escape justice.
At one stage during the eight-minute struggle, Mr Slater bit Mr Batterham on the hand, making the chef even more determined to hold him down until he could be arrested.
Crown prosecutor Wayne Creasey SC said Mr Batterham was within his rights to chase and detain Mr Slater, but went too far.
Mr Creasey said Mr Batterham was in a frenzy when threatening to kill Mr Slater and ignored pleas from neighbours to release the burglar, who was crying out he couldn’t breathe.
He said that if the jury did not find Mr Batterham guilty of murder, he should be convicted of manslaughter because his actions had been dangerous and unlawful.
Medical experts called to give evidence during the two-week trial had differing opinions on what caused Mr Slater’s death.
Clinical toxicologist Dr Nuren Gunja told the jury he believed Mr Slater, high on ice at the time, had died of asphyxiation from being strangled.
But forensic toxicologist and pharmacologist Dr Michael Kennedy disagreed, contending Mr Slater suffered a heart attack due to the high level of methylamphetamine in his system and his existing heart condition.
Mr Batterham was at home in the Newcastle suburb of Hamilton drinking with a friend when he saw Mr Slater at the entrance to his seven-month-old daughter’s bedroom about 3.20am on March 26, 2016. Mr Slater was carrying a shoulder bag containing three knives, cannabis and ice.
Mr Batterham’s partner and baby were not home at the time.
The jury was not told during the trial about Mr Slater’s lengthy criminal history, including his imprisonment for at least four years in 2009 for raping a teenage girl in south Tamworth.
The 16-year-old girl had been expecting her ex-boyfriend to visit when she answered a knock at the door to find Mr Slater standing there pantless on June 6, 2007. Mr Slater pushed his way into the house and raped the girl, telling her he would stab her if she didn’t keep quiet.
He pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual intercourse without consent and was jailed for six years, with a minimum of four years.