Zachary Rolfe’s father spoke to a witness about evidence during his son’s trial, prosecutor claimed

Constable Zachary Rolfe’s father spoke to a witness about their evidence and stared at them in an intimidating manner during his son’s trial for murder, counsel for the Department of Public Prosecutions claimed during Rolfe’s trial.

The court did not consider or make any finding as to whether the alleged incident occurred and no explanation from Rolfe’s father was sought, but he has denied the allegation. Instead, Justice John Burns issued a general warning to all people present at the court about the importance of not speaking to witnesses.

Rolfe, 30, was on trial for the murder of Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker, who died in November 2019 after he was shot three times by Rolfe during an attempted arrest. He was found not guilty of murder and two alternative charges on 11 March.

Rolfe’s father Richard, who was not involved in the proceedings, was a constant presence in the public gallery throughout the five-week trial. On 1 March, Phillip Strickland for DPP told the court that he had been instructed that Richard Rolfe had spoken to Det Sgt Andrew Barram in the toilets of the court on 1 March.

Details about the allegations can now be reported after Judge John Burns lifted a suppression order on all matters heard in the Northern Territory Supreme Court outside the presence of the jury on 1 March.

After a short break during that day’s hearing, Prosecutor Philip Strickland SC told Burns he had been instructed that Barram had been in the toilet when he was spoken to by Richard Rolfe.

“He was spoken to by the accused’s father, who commented on his evidence. And stared at him, in what was described as an intimidating manner.

“I’d simply ask your Honour to warn everyone in court, that they ought not to speak to any witness who’s giving evidence in court.

Burns agreed to give a warning to those in the court about witnesses.

“Well without in any way commenting upon the rights or wrongs of the suggestion that’s been made by the Crown about the particular incident, it is of course, important that all witnesses be able to give their evidence freely, and without any suggestion of interference or intimidation.

“So that all persons who are present in or around the court, should not attempt to speak to or in any other way, interact with witnesses, either before they give their evidence, or whilst they are giving their evidence, or even after they have given their evidence.”

Richard Rolfe told Guardian Australia he had not intimidated Barram, only saying thank you to him after the police officer held the door open for him when he left the bathroom.

He said Barram entered the bathroom while he was already inside, but he then held the door for him as he left.

“The only two words I said were ‘thank you’,” he said.

Barram, a senior NT police officer with extensive experience in training who conducted multiple reviews of the shooting for the prosecution, was described by Rolfe’s defence barrister David Edwardson QC during the trial as “undoubtedly the most controversial witness”.

The court heard that, until recently, Barram had oversight of all firearms and defensive tactics training within NT police, and reviewed and wrote the force’s training manuals.

He gave evidence over three days, saying Rolfe had acted against his training as an NT police officer when he shot Walker a second and third time.

Barram said that instead of firing the second and third shots, Rolfe could have used “defensive tactics … that don’t involve a weapon” to assist his colleague, then-constable Adam Eberl, in controlling Walker once they were struggling on the floor. He said that the firing of the last two shots did not “tactically give them any advantage”.

Another expert witness called by Rolfe’s solicitors disagreed with Barram’s conclusion saying: “In my view once the struggle went from a standing struggle to the ground it became a far more dangerous and dire situation for constable Eberl.”

“They had gone from a standing position in a fairly equal fight, to being on the ground … and constable Eberl pinning Mr Walker down,” he said.

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