Steven Wallace: the trial
Steven Wallace: the trial
The trial of Senior Constable Keith Abbott began in Wellington on 18 November 2002. He is charged with murder, with an alternative charge of manslaughter, in relation to the death of Steven Wallace - shot and killed in Waitara on 30 April 2000.
In his opening instructions to the jury, Justice Chambers said that although the case was a private prosecution, it should be treated by the jury the same as if it had been brought by the Crown.
John Rowan, QC, outlined the prosecution’s case in his opening address. He said that it was unnecessary for Abbott to have shot Steven as there were alternatives available. Steven had a baseball bat - a non-distance weapon - so was no danger to anyone beyond his immediate vicinity.
Rowan pointed out that there were three police officers present at the scene on the night, and a police dog unit was on its way. The officers had batons and OC (pepper) spray with them. The police training video for the use of OC spray shows an angry man armed with a baseball bat being incapacitated by the spray.
When two of the officers went to Waitara police station to get guns, they also had access to riot gear - protective helmets and body armour - which was stored in the gun room.
Rowan said that Abbott chose to use lethal force - what would usually be the final option for dealing with an offender armed with a distance weapon. In this case it was used as the first option on someone with a non-distance weapon, and no other option appeared to have been explored. Abbott was the senior officer present, and was therefore responsible for directing all the officers at the scene in accordance with police regulations. However, there was no plan formulated of how they would approach Steven.
Having made the decision to shoot, Rowan said that Abbott, a highly trained marksman, used excessive force by not assessing the impact of each shot he fired. The legal test for self-defence is reasonableness of the force used. If it is shown that Steven was incapacitated after the first or second shot, then the third and fourth shots would be considered unreasonable force.
Witnesses for the prosecution would testify that the first two shots which struck Steven were non-fatal. Based on forensic evidence, it appears that the first shot hit Steven side on while he was standing holding a bat over his right shoulder, shattering the bones in his left wrist and passing through into the bicep of his right arm. The second shot passed through his outside left elbow, then through the front of his body.
The third shot, which the prosecution contends was the fatal shot, entered Steven’s body just below and to the left of the sternum at a slightly upward angle, indicating that Steven was falling forward at the time, and ripped through his spleen. The fourth bullet entered through his back and exited intact through his right shoulder - the path of that bullet indicates that Steven was bent parallel to the ground with his body turned 180 degrees from the original position.
After he was shot, Steven lay in the street with no medical attention for around seventeen minutes.
In response one of the defence lawyers, Patrick Mooney, said that Abbott was acting in self-defence.
The trial is expected to continue for three or four weeks.
Background information is available on this page. Of particular interest, as it refers to the issues which need to be considered in the trial, would be ‘A step towards justice? The Chief Justice’s judgment on the shooting of Steven Wallace’.
While it was revealed by TV One News on 15 June 2002 that Cabinet had decided to pay around $130,000 to the Police Association for the cost of Constable Abbott’s defence to date; the Wallace family are not receiving any legal aid for the court case.
You can help by supporting The Steven Wallace Trust Fund for Justice, which was established to help with legal costs and expenses incurred by Steven's family, and to campaign for possible changes to the law and to police procedures - any funds not required for these purposes will be placed in a permanent trust fund for the use of persons finding themselves victims of similar injustices. If you wish to make a contribution to the fund, please refer to the updated details on this page.
"This is not just a Waitara tragedy, it was a national tragedy and one we must never allow to occur again" (from the Wallace Whänau Committee statement, June 2000)