No verdict in Wiradjuri man Dwayne Johnstone murder trial

November 15, 2022
Dwayne Johnstone (centre). Photo: Aboriginal Legal Service ACT/NSW

The jury was dismissed on November 14 after a three-week trial of a New South Wales prison officer accused of murdering Wiradjuri man Dwayne Johnstone in Lismore in 2019.

This was the first time a prison officer has been charged with the murder of a First Nations person: the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Johnstone was in handcuffs and leg shackles on March 15, 2019, when he was shot in the back by correctional services “Officer A”.

Johnstone was being escorted out of the Lismore Base Hospital, when he shoved another officer and ran across the road. The crown said he posed no risk.

Officer A fired three shots and the third hit Johnstone in the back. He died shortly after.

Dwayne had that day been refused bail by Lismore Local Court. Distraught and suffering from epilepsy, he was taken to Lismore Base Hospital.

NITV reported that crown prosecutor Ken McKay SC told the court it happened in 11 seconds.

“As the shoved colleague gave chase, Officer A drew his work-issued revolver and used words to the effect of ‘Corrections Officer — stop or I’ll shoot’.

“After repeating it a second time, Officer A shouted at his colleague to ‘get out of the road’ and then fired.

“The first two shots missed. The third round, four seconds after the last and at close range, felled Mr Johnstone.”

More than a year later, the coronial inquest began on October 27, 2020, at Lismore Court House.

Three days into the inquiry, State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan referred the case to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (NSW DPP).

The NSW DPP originally recommended a manslaughter charge against Officer A. It was upgraded to murder in early August.

Following that decision, correctional service officers took strike action on August 12.

The four-week trial began on October 19 and concluded on November 8.

Johnstone’s mother Kerry Crawford-Shanahan told Green Left that Johnstone was “my son, my love. No one will replace him. I just want justice.”

Defence barrister Philip Strickland represented Officer A, with the Public Sector Association NSW covering the costs.

Spokesperson for Dwaynes Justice Freya Strom told GL that Officer A had been free for the last few years and was receiving pay.

“The NSW Public Sector Association covered his legal costs. After the jury dismissed Officer A, he had his bail continued and is free in the community. The defence will make a plea to the DPP about not having a retrial,” Strom said.

“I don’t know that they have a strong enough case to have it dismissed,” Strom continued. “It is not uncommon for retrials to take place and the judge of the trial, Justice R Beech Jones said during the trial that this is a case of great public interest.”

The National Justice Project is representing Johnstone’s family in court.

[Check Dwaynes Justice on Facebook for campaign updates.]

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