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Not guilty of murder

Saturday, 17th February, 2018

By Craig Brealey

The jury in the trial of Jonda Rhani Stephen was yesterday directed to find her not guilty of murder. 

However, the trial will still proceed to determine whether Ms Stephen is guilty of the lesser homicide charge of manslaughter.

In the Supreme Court, the Crown prosecutor conceded there was no evidence that Ms Stephen had acted in anything other than self defence when she stabbed Christopher David Tiffin (57) to death at their Chloride Street home on the evening of October 5, 2015.

The trial has heard that Mr Tiffin had struck Ms Stephen (50) four times in the face and head with a clothes iron before she stabbed him once through the heart with a paring knife.

Yesterday prosecutor Liam Shaw told the jury that the Crown “cannot disprove that it was necessary to do what she did to defend herself”.

Judge Richard Button then formally directed the jury to declare a verdict of not guilty to murder, which it duly it. 

Barrister Dr Peggy Dwyer then opened the case for the defence by reminding the jury that the prosecution had not disputed Ms Stephen’s account of what happened on October 5, and that she had stabbed Mr Tiffin to stop him from bashing her with an iron.

“The Crown must disprove that her response was reasonable under the circumstances,” Dr Dwyer said.

“Jonda Stephen had no time for calm reflection when she was being belted in the face by Mr Tiffin.”

Dr Dwyer also reminded the jurors that the victim was a big, thickset man who towered over Ms Stephen and that she had already suffered months of abuse at his hands.

She had been beaten and kicked, hit with a baseball bat, tied up and locked in the laundry, had pills forced down her throat and duct tape wrapped around her head in an attempt to suffocate her, the barrister said.

Under that final assault with the iron, Ms Stephen had done what she could to save her life, she said.

“What options did she have?” Dr Dwyer asked the jury. “None, and of course her response was reasonable.”

The first witness for the defence was a first cousin of Ms Stephen, Betty Lee Rogers, from Gilgandra, who was invited to describe the defendant’s character.

Mrs Rogers, a former head teacher at TAFE, said she was a loving and honest woman whom she had never seen express anger.

She had used her experience as a trained nurse to help her grandfather and father when they became ill and cooked baked dinners for them, Ms Rogers said.

Ms Stephen had a “very loving” relationship with her husband, Daryl, but that ended after six years when he was killed in a car accident, she told the jury.

At the time their daughter was less than a year old, Ms Rogers said.

Ms Stephen had worked all of her adult life and raised the girl, now 19, on her own. After Daryl died she’d had only one brief relationship before she met Mr Tiffin, Ms Rogers said.

She said Ms Stephen had been looking forward to her new job at the Broken Hill Hospital in 2014.

“She was very excited about moving to Broken Hill; she was a country girl at heart.”

But by the middle of 2015 her “outgoing and vivacious” cousin’s mood had darkened, she said, and she sensed that “there was something wrong”.

The trial resumes on Monday when evidence will be given by a psychiatrist who is an expert in domestic violence.

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