SYDNEY (AFP) – The high-profile trial of an Australian constable accused of murdering a 19-year-old Aboriginal man began yesterday, with a jury told the teen died after being shot at “point-blank range”.
Zachary Rolfe, 30, is charged with murder over the death of Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot three times during an attempted 2019 arrest in a case that prompted nationwide protests.
Rolfe has pleaded not guilty to that charge, and to alternative charges of manslaughter and engaging in a violent act causing death.
If he is found guilty of the most serious charge, he will be the first police officer convicted of murder over the death of an Indigenous person in custody.
Yesterday’s proceedings started with jury selection, before the prosecution began its opening statement.
Rolfe is being tried in Darwin, about 1,500 kilometres north of the remote Indigenous community of Yuendumu, where Walker died on November 9, 2019.
He and other officers from the Immediate Response Team had travelled from Alice Springs to arrest Walker for an alleged bail breach.
According to court, Rolfe and another officer entered a house to arrest Walker, and told him to place his hands behind his back.
Walker is said to have then stabbed Rolfe in the shoulder with a pair of scissors, and a struggle ensued during which Rolfe fired three shots at Walker. The teenager died that night at Yuendumu police station, and Rolfe was charged with murder four days later.
In his opening statement yesterday, prosecutor Philip Strickland told the jury he would try to prove that either Rolfe’s second or third shot – fired just 0.5 seconds apart at “point-blank range” – killed Walker and that neither was lawful.
Strickland said the quick succession of shots was known as a “double tap” by police and military, but put it to the jury that the second and third shots were not justified because Walker was already “effectively restrained” by Rolfe’s partner.