Guarded answers - at what price
Analysis by Brad Clifton
August 3, 2004
HER arms are bruised, her forehead is gashed, her eye is black and her hand is bandaged.
But fortunately - or unfortunately as the case may be - Karen Brown's larynx appears to have suffered little effect from William Aquilina's knuckledusters.
The 42-year-old security guard, who was yesterday charged with the shooting murder of armed thief Aquilina, delayed speaking to police for days because of the extent of her injuries.
Yet she managed to fight through the pain and think clearly enough to conduct media interviews at her Rooty Hill home at the weekend.
Brown's decision to open her heart to a television camera but to shun the glare of a police ERISP (Electronic Record of Interview with Suspected Person) has been viewed as folly by a number of legal experts.
The move left police publicly disappointed and privately fuming and no doubt expedited their decision to charge Brown with murder.
And while her family and lawyers argue there was nothing wrong with Brown going public before she spoke to police, others believe she has done herself a great disservice.
Even taking into account the reported $100,000 fee she obtained for her exclusive deal with Channel 7's Today Tonight - most of which will allegedly be used to fund her defence - the overwhelming legal opinion suggests Brown would have been better off containing her verbal account of the incident to a police interview room.
"If a person speaks to the media before they've spoken to the police and she's got a valid defence, like self-defence ... the police might even speak to the DPP who could recommend not proceeding with a charge," Pauline Wright, Chairwoman of the NSW Law Society's Criminal Law Committee, said.
"By going to the media and not taking that option of speaking to the police and presenting her case to them, I would have thought she was acting a bit foolishly."
Ms Wright said while there was no legal requirement for Brown to talk to the police at all, she should have done so.
"As a general rule a person who has a genuine defence ought to be speaking to the police about that genuine defence in a very serious case like a shooting and killing," Ms Wright said.
"I don't know whether the police are taking it as a personal affront ... but if they are, then it might not be to her advantage because they may have listened to her story more sympathetically before.
"They may be less sympathetic now. I would hope they're not less sympathetic if she has a valid defence but at this stage we simply don't know that."
Yesterday, NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC suggested Brown had profited - in more ways than one - with her decision to go public.
"It seems to me the police have been faced with quite a difficult problem in deciding how much latitude to give Ms Brown before taking action in relation to the shooting that happened last week," Mr Cowdery said.
"In this case a person who may be a suspect has seemed to have profited from the media, by a great amount, by exploiting a delay in police action."
But Brown's lawyer Mark Rumore defended his client's decision to speak to the media before going to the police.
Mr Rumore also said the subject matter of the television interview would have no impact on future legal proceedings.
"I have knowledge of what was canvassed during that interview and it was very limited in scope," he said.
"It doesn't go to the issues of criminal liability nor as to exactly what occurred and what the legal ramifications would be."
But Ms Wright believes airing the case in the media the way Brown has could indeed have an effect on possible jurors if the case reaches trial.
"The danger is it can lead to abortions of trials because, if there's inappropriate statements made in the media, it could be found to have so biased any free-thinking jury member that it is not possible for there to be a fair trial," Ms Wright said.
"That's the real danger of speaking so freely to the media about cases that are going to come up before the courts.
"There have been some cases within recent memory, such as the gang rape trials, that were aborted because of media coverage.
"It [the trial] is going to be down the track but if there's this level of media interest at this early stage that's not going to go away ... that's an indicator of what's to come."
The Daily Telegraph