Australia: Five accused of Bobby Medcraft murder in Burnie found not guilty, but four guilty of manslaughter

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Bobby Medcraft died after being bashed and cut with a sword in street in Upper Burnie. (Facebook) © Provided by ABC NEWS Bobby Medcraft died after being bashed and cut with a sword in street in Upper Burnie. (Facebook)

Five people have been found not guilty of murdering a man in Tasmania's north-west.

Bobby Medcraft, 23, died on March 29, 2020 after allegedly being bashed and cut with a sword in an Upper Burnie street.

Five people — Cody Sheehan, Lucas Ford, Michael Hanlon, Geoffrey Deverell and Kelsey Ford — stood accused of his murder in a trial that spanned five weeks.

Four of the accused were found guilty of manslaughter.

Geoffrey Deverell was found not guilty of both alleged crimes.

After retiring last Wednesday, the jury handed down its verdict in the Supreme Court in Launceston this afternoon.

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Justice Robert Pearce had instructed the jury "five trials were being conducted at once" and therefore they must consider the case against each of the accused separately.

The jury was told it could decide whether each person was guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter, or not guilty of either.

Snapchat message sparked fight, court told

The trial got underway in October, more than two and half years on from Mr Medcraft's death.

Much of that time was spent determining which court the trial would be held in as the Supreme Court in Burnie is too small to fit all five co-accused, each of their lawyers, plus two prosecutors and a public gallery.

When proceedings did begin, the jury of 12 plus two reserves were told about the sequence of events leading up to Mr Medcraft's death, starting with a Snapchat message accidentally sent from one of his friends to Mr Ford.

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The court heard Luke Buckley sent Mr Ford a message saying "what's up c***?", after which the exchange quickly devolved into threats and abuse.

Mr Medcraft and three friends attempted to fight the accused people earlier in the night at Ms Ford's house, but it was broken up by police.

Crown Prosecutor Jack Shapiro alleged the five accused then chased Mr Medcraft and his group across Burnie by car, smashing in the back windscreen with a cricket bat and ramming his vehicle.

Both cars then came to a stop and the fight broke out.

Time stamps from police body-worn camera vision shown in court indicated the brawl lasted three minutes at most.

'Testosterone-fuelled stupidity'

The defence told the jury the five were only pursuing Mr Medcraft because they were scared he would return to follow through on his earlier threats of violence, including stabbing Mr Sheehan "in the face or brain".

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Greg Richardson, the lawyer for Mr Sheehan – who inflicted the sword injury – told the court his client did so only out of self-defence.

Mr Richardson alleged his client had been threatened by Mr Medcraft with broken bottles – a claim the prosecution disputed.

"That's what escalated this fight from testosterone-fuelled stupidity … to use of weapons," Mr Richardson told the court.

Mr Richardson said therefore it was "beyond argument" that Mr Sheehan felt personally threatened and he made a "split-second decision" in using the sword.

Summing up before the verdict, Justice Pearce told the jury they must put all emotion aside when considering the facts and evidence.

"Members of the public would strongly disapprove of the behaviour shown by both parties," he said.

"You might think a fight escalated for very little reason, but you must reach a verdict on a non-emotional assessment of the evidence."

Mother has 'lived hell'

Bobby Medcraft's mother, Leeanne Medcraft, said she was disappointed by the manslaughter verdicts.

"Now to know what these guys have got, it's not justice," she said.

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She said the death of her son and the court trial had been incredibly tough for her.

"It happened two and a half years ago, and that two and a half years I've lived hell," she said.

"This is my only child, my miracle child."

She has fond memories of her son.

"His character, his laugh, every night, it didn't matter where he was he'd ring me up and say 'love you mum'.

"Me and Bobby had a bond that no-one will ever, ever take away from me.

"Knowing that his little five-year-old boy is going to not have his dad, that's the worst.

"What I've seen I don't wish it on any mother."

Complex case for jurors

Over the course of the lengthy trial, jurors heard from dozens of witnesses, from local residents to forensic glass experts and multiple police officers.

Friends of Mr Medcraft who were there on the night also testified.

Two of the accused, Ms Ford and Mr Sheehan, also chose to take to the witness box.

The jury was also tasked with understanding a series of legal concepts, including unlawful common purpose, the restrictions around lawful self-defence, aiding and abetting, and probable consequences.

Justice Pearce adjourned the court this afternoon for sentencing submissions on Wednesday.

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