Sarah Jane Ristevski stood at her father’s side outside a Melbourne police station in July 2016 as he stared down the barrel of TV cameras to plead for information about her missing mum.
Weeks later on the banks of the river behind the family’s Avondale Heights home, the then 21-year-old held tight to Borce Ristevski when he was asked on camera by a crime reporter: “Did you kill Karen?”
Nearly three years on from the disappearance that gripped the nation, Mr Ristevski has admitted to killing his wife Karen Ristevski and knowing all along where her body would be found.
The lies have finally unravelled, but one thing has remained intact: Sarah’s devotion to her father, who she has now described as a “loving” and “protective” parent and husband.
A document newly tendered in court has revealed how close Sarah has remained to her father since his arrest in December 2017.
“I have visited him every week and talked to him on the phone at least twice a day since his arrest,” Sarah Ristevski wrote to the court.
That the 23-year-old would continue to support her father has not come as a surprise to Karen’s devastated family, who have told The New Daily that Sarah has been avoiding them for months and had even become upset at relatives who had been talking publicly about the case while her mother remained missing.
But nothing could steel them for the extra blow at the Supreme Court in Melbourne on Wednesday.
It was then that alliances seemed clear: Sarah declined to provide a victim impact statement to the court to explain how the loss of her mother has affected her life.
Instead, in a move that has shattered Karen’s other relatives, she gave a “glowing” reference for her father and talked about how difficult his life had become since her mother’s disappearance.
“Since the act of violence my dad has experienced job loss, a loss of respect within the community and the loss of close long-term friendships,” she wrote.
“The extensive media coverage has been not only hard on him, but has been significantly hard on me.
“For months my dad would try his best to shield me from the waiting media outside our home, but unfortunately he can’t shield me anymore.
“The circumstances have left me without both of my parents, and I know there is nothing that I can do to change that, but all I can try to do is communicate the truth of how good of a dad and husband he was to my mum and I.”
Other family members spoke of their immense grief and hurt at the years of deceit by someone pretending not to know what happened to his wife.
Karen’s aunty Patricia Gray was in tears as she told of her pain and of seeing Ristevski “manipulate” his family.
Another aunty, Margueritte Knight, asked Ristevski: “How did you get so cruel?”
But Sarah’s character reference painted a different picture of the man who faces 20 years in prison after admitting to manslaughter.
She said Ristevski helped in the community and gave shop profits to charity, and was a loving father who brushed her hair and drove her to school when she was a child.
There had never been any violence between the parents, Sarah said.
She said he was also always there for Karen, providing his wife “a shoulder to cry on when she felt like her family wasn’t there for her”.
“The love they had for each other and the marriage that they shared is something I hope to one day experience myself,” Sarah said.
Ristevski will be sentenced on April 18.