All of this because of one punch – one senseless punch
New Year’s Eve. The one day of the year that almost every country celebrates the passing of time and every person stops to re-evaluate the last 12 months. They laugh about the good, cry about the bad and become excited about the possibilities ahead. In 2009 I was no exception. I had the world at my feet – until my world shattered beneath me.
I was working as the Officer in Charge of Minyerri Police Station, based in the Minyerri Aboriginal Community in the Northern Territory. My husband, Brett, and I had transferred to the Northern Territory Police from NSW with our three children. We were based at Katherine, Brett being a Sergeant himself, and I had moved to Minyerri temporarily as part of the Government intervention.
I travelled back to Katherine on New Year’s Eve to see my family and also stock up on local supplies. I recall asking Brett what his plans were for the night, since he wasn’t working, and he replied by saying that he was taking the children for dinner and having an early night. I laughed, saying that it was New Year’s Eve and he should go out and have fun. I regret those words every day.
Brett did go out. He took my advice and enjoyed the night with friends. Until, for reasons unknown, he was approached by Michael Martyn.
A little after 3am on New Year’s Day I received a phone call to say that Brett had been involved in a fight. He was unconscious and the ambulance personnel needed to know his medical history. At first I was confused, and then I was angry. I was angry at Brett for going out, getting in a fight and leaving my Dad to care for our children whilst he was being stitched up. The thought of anything more serious than that never crossed my mind. I made the decision to drive back to Katherine in the early hours of the morning and went straight to the hospital.
Brett was lying in the bed, intubated and in an induced coma. I was told that he had been punched once to the face and he had fallen back, hitting his head on the concrete floor. As a result he had suffered a fracture to the skull. The fracture itself was large and Brett was completely non-responsive.
We were flown to Darwin Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. I had no idea what to do or what to expect.
Brett had suffered bleeding to the brain and his brain was continuing to swell. The doctors were having trouble controlling the swelling and where the blood had formed a clot, the functions of that part of the brain ceased to work. They needed to remove part of his brain and also remove his skull so the brain could swell. All of this because of one punch – one senseless punch.
Brett’s condition never improved. As a family we decided to remove his life support and I laid on his chest, listened to his heart stop, and said goodbye. He was gone.
Michael Martyn had been arrested shortly after the incident and was charged with manslaughter. CCTV was captured inside the night club which showed Martyn approach Brett and an argument ensued. The situation quickly escalated and Martyn pushed Brett to the floor. When Brett got up, he became distracted by other patrons.
It was then Martyn came from behind another and punched Brett once in the face, knocking him out on his feet and causing him to fall undefended onto the ground. One punch. The only punch thrown throughout the incident and thrown when Brett was not even looking.
Martyn pleaded not guilty and the criminal proceedings commenced. This started with an oral committal held in Katherine and included numerous witnesses. Brett’s mother and I sat through every day of evidence, listening to the relatives and friends of Martyn accusing Brett of instigating a fight, and not being able to have a voice.
I had seen the footage and I knew the truth. Yet as a victim, it felt like the trial was all about the defendant. Brett was gone – out of sight, out of mind. In this case there was no “two sides to every story” because one side had been silenced.
At the conclusion of the committal, Martyn was committed to stand trial for manslaughter. Once again, Brett’s family and I sat through days of finger pointing, days of graphic images and the replaying of the video footage. And in the end, Martyn was convicted of manslaughter. He was initially sentenced to three years and eight months with a non-parole period of one year and ten months. This was for manslaughter – for taking another life and leaving three children without a father. This sentence was appealed but only increased to five years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two years and six months. I felt defeated.
I am now fighting to have new legislation implemented in the Northern Territory. This legislation specifically deals with unlawful assaults causing death. It is my belief that if you decide to unlawfully assault a person, and that person dies, then you are guilty – simple as that. The prosecution should not have to prove that you were reckless or negligent. They should not have to prove it wasn’t an accident. If someone decides to throw the punch, then they need to know they will be punished.
If this legislation was in place at the time of Brett’s death, based on the CCTV footage obtained, then I can’t see how a not guilty plea could have been entered. This legislation will help to stop families having to endure a criminal trial, and bring closure much sooner.
Martyn was found guilty in June 2010, almost 18 months after the incident occurred. It is also my hope that this legislation will act as a deterrent to anyone who may think about engaging in senseless violence – because life is too precious and we need to live it whilst we can.
Amee Meredith is campaigning to introduce a specific crime of “one-punch homicide,” after her husband Brett was killed in an assault in 2010. Amee will appear on SBS’s Insight program tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.
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