A man has been found guilty of murder for fatally stabbing a teenage boy in a Geelong shopping mall, almost 23 years after he was first questioned by police.
Karl Hague’s recent claims that the key witnesses who gave evidence against him were all lying didn’t wash with a Supreme Court jury, which on Monday found the 44-year-old guilty of murdering 16-year-old Ricky Balcombe on May 5, 1995.
Hague has long denied that he'd fatally stabbed Ricky at the Market Square shopping centre entrance, off the Little Malop Street mall, about 3.20pm that Friday after approaching the teenager with the words: ‘‘Do you remember me, motherf---er?’’
But the evidence of Ricky’s friend, Paul Bellia, who told the jury he was nearby his mate and saw Hague approach with a knife, helped the jury reach their verdict.
Bellia admitted repeatedly lying to police years ago but told investigators last year he did so out of fear of Hague, and was now adamant he saw him stab Ricky.
The teenager died in hospital soon after.
Hague did not react as the jury announced its verdict.
But his partner and members of Ricky’s family, seated on either side of the court room, both began crying.
Justice Lex Lasry remanded him in custody to return to court on May 2 for a pre-sentence hearing.
Hague calmly said something to his partner as he was led out of the dock and into custody.
Flanked by her husband and children, Ricky Balcombe’s mother Christine Loader said she was thrilled with the verdict, describing it as the ‘‘best day of our lives’’.
The emotional mother from Geelong said she had full confidence in the justice system after more then two decades of ‘‘hell’’ waiting for her teenage sons’s murderer to be convicted.
The jury began its deliberations last Monday morning and on Thursday and Friday indicated difficulties in reaching a verdict when they asked for advice on points of law in questions to Justice Lasry.
The jury continued deliberating over the weekend, before agreeing on a verdict on Monday morning.
In a marathon trial that began on March 1 and featured more than 60 witnesses, the jury was told Hague’s attack on Ricky was payback for an incident two weeks earlier, when members of the gang Ricky ran with smashed up a brown Holden Kingswood in which Hague was seated.
The attack on the car, on April 21, 1995, was itself retribution for Hague chasing and bashing Ricky earlier that night.
Besides Bellia’s eyewitness account, a series of prosecution witnesses said they saw a man matching the description of the 21-year-old Hague in the mall on the day Ricky was stabbed, including another of Ricky’s friends, and the brother of the killer’s then girlfriend.
Three women also emerged as key witnesses when they detailed separate encounters with Hague over the following days.
One woman said Hague showed up at her Corio home with a friend on the afternoon Ricky died and left wearing different clothing, while another was in a car that night when they heard a radio report about the death of an unnamed teenager and Hague said: ‘‘That’s the little c--- that knifed my car.’’
The third woman said she was among a group of people several days later when Hague said: ‘‘I did it. I stabbed him in the back. F--- him.’’
Another associate told the jury Hague confessed in 1996 or 1997 to stabbing Ricky.
Hague took the witness box during the trial and denied being in the mall that afternoon. He claimed he had been dropped at home by a friend and at the time Ricky was stabbed was either at home or riding his bicycle to his then girlfriend’s house.
He dismissed the evidence of all the key witnesses as lies, said he didn’t know who smashed up the Kingswood and denied knowing Ricky hung out in the mall.
He said he didn’t know who Ricky was when he bashed him on April 21, 1995 and denied murdering him a fortnight later.
Defence counsel Felicity Gerry, QC, told the jury her client couldn’t be found guilty because of doubts on the evidence over the passage of time; the reliability of some witnesses given their history of lying to police, criminal convictions, drug and alcohol problems and affiliations with gangs; the influence of media reports and television programs about the case and the enticement of financial rewards for information.
But prosecutor Andrew Tinney, SC, said the combined evidence from so many sources – even if there were deficiencies in Bellia’s testimony – comprehensively proved beyond reasonable doubt that Hague murdered Ricky.
Hague was first questioned by police in the days after Ricky’s death and charged in 1996, but the case against him was abandoned two years later because prosecutors were certain they couldn’t get a conviction after the deaths of some witnesses.
He was charged again last year when new witnesses, including Bellia, came forward.
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