Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Australia: Twelve years for a killing carried out by his buddy

Damon Cooper is the forgotten victim. Few would know him by name, or even for his crime of manslaughter that sent him away for 12 years. Most know the crime by the accomplice: The night in 1988 when former Australian heavyweight champion Dean Waters legally shot a man dead. Cooper was 24 that night. He was there lying in the dirt next to Waters when Allan Hall, the man who was living with Dean's mother, walked outside to see why his dogs were barking.

Waters' shotgun went off and Hall never got up. While Waters was the only real suspect, he beat the charge the following year and looked set to get away with it forever. For the next eight years both men held their secret until Waters walked into Wyong police station in February 1996 and confessed to the killing.

By association, he gave up Cooper, too. What happened next can be explained, perhaps, if not understood. Cooper faced court first. They found him guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to 18 years with a non-parole period of 12. Three months later, Waters faced Newcastle Court and over the next few weeks the trial was a confessional for the horrors of Australia's famous boxing family.

In defence of their brother Dean, Guy, Troy and sister Tracey detailed their years of abuse from their father, Ces, which forced the hold he had over them. It was terrible abuse. He would leave a bucket in the loungeroom which the children were forced to use at night instead of a toilet. When Dean needed the toilet his father would unzip his fly and handle his son himself, tucking him back away again. And he was no small boy, Dean being the Australian heavyweight champion at the time.

Ces took Tracey, at 14, to Kings Cross to pose for pornographic photos. He regularly whipped them with a rubber hose fixed with a brass attachment. Ces would follow them in roadwork, setting his car at an even speed and bumping the heels of any boy that started to tire and lag behind. He was driven by a perverse rage, on and on with mind control techniques that were at odds with everything they professed to be. It was this control Ces, a sexual deviant on top of everything else, exercised to order Dean and Cooper to kill Hall in revenge for his wife leaving him a year earlier.

They had been friends since they were 17 and Cooper had pleaded unsuccessfully at his trial that he was under a similar hold. It failed. When Waters was found not guilty, he began crying in court. He turned to the jury. "Thank you," he said. Dean's acquittal was relayed to Cooper at Silverwater, where he put his head in his hands and cried.

Waters supported Cooper through his various appeals but by the time Cooper was let out to attend his mother Verlie's funeral in 1999, he was long gone. They no longer speak. "I still don't believe mates do what he did," Cooper said. "Mates stick together and I believe he was all for himself."

The bitterness is that Cooper can do 12 years for a crime that Waters does not pay one day for. "Done every day, too," Cooper said. While Hall was the ultimate victim, which should not be forgotten, many believe Cooper was offered up to satisfy the need for justice.

Twelve years feeds enough cynicism to feel he knows why the justice system let him down. He said: "I didn't represent my country as heavyweight champion of Australia. I was an average motor mechanic. In suburbia. I still believe . . . OK, I should have served some time but possibly not as long as I did. "I don't believe I was given a fair go through the courts."

Respected psychiatrist Robert Strum had given evidence that Cooper was under a similar hold to Dean at the time of the killing. Senior counsel Paul Byrne repeated Strum's assessment to the court: "Really, he was not sure of what was his will and what was Ces's will, what was his thinking and what was Ces's. Ces was a cult-like figure . . . the leader, the fuhrer, the man who held the power." But it mattered little.

Twelve years later he has missed a whole chunk of life. Now 45, he walked out the heavy steel door yesterday and gently embraced his children, Amanda and Rhys, before heading home to a barbecue, to what family remains, to a life he does not know.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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