In a Brisbane court on May 25, Palm Island resident Lex Wotton was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in relation to riot charges, after Judge Phil Nase found that Wotton had been asked to plead illegally.
Wotton — who has been portrayed by Queensland Police and the corporate media as the supposed ringleader of the Palm Island "riot" in 2004 following the death in custody of Aboriginal man Mulrunji — pled guilty on the eve of a trial with four other accused rioters in March. John Clumpoint, William Blackman, Lance Poynter and Dwayne Blanket were acquitted two weeks later, but before their trial had finished Wotton applied to withdraw his plea.
At an application hearing last month the court was told that Wotton was on medication for back pain and had received poor legal advice when he entered his original plea. However, the main of point of argument between the defence and the prosecution was whether Wotton's guilty plea was heard in a closed court or not. Under Queensland law it is illegal for pleas to be heard in a closed court. Despite witness statements describing a sign on the courtroom door saying "court closed" and the fact that members of the public (including Wotton's family) weren't able to go into the courtroom, the prosecution tried to argue that it wasn't officially closed.
After nearly a month's deliberation, Nase found that the court had been closed and Wotton's plea should not have been heard. He upheld the application to withdraw the plea and adjourned the matter until June 1 when Wotton will plea again and be able to apply for bail. Wotton was refused bail on March 5 and has been remanded in custody ever since.