Grafton Courthouse Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Grafton Courthouse Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Dead in a ditch: Coffs man accused of mate's murder

THERE was a sense of deja vu as the judge, crown, defence and accused assembled in the Grafton courthouse yesterday in anticipation of the Supreme Court murder trial over the alleged murder of Clarence Valley man Danial Cotter.

Donald Neil Gordon, from Coffs Harbour, is accused of the murder of his friend near Collum Collum station, west of Baryulgil in November 2013.

Cotter's body was found lying in a ditch at the entrance to the cattle station on the morning of November 7, 2013, having died of significant head injuries including multiple skull and facial fractures.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because the murder trial got under way twice last year.

Opening statements were first heard in the Grafton courthouse on March 2, 2016, but the entire jury was dismissed the next day after it was revealed one of the jurors was related to the alleged victim.

It was heard that the relationship between Cotter and the juror was unknown to the juror himself until the night before, and Supreme Court judge Justice Stephen Campbell stressed there had been no misconduct on his part.

Despite the fact a Supreme Court trial can technically continue with a minimum of 10 jurors, a decision was made to start the trial afresh.

In addressing the court, Justice Campbell relayed the basics of a note from the juror, in which it was revealed that a member of his family, knowing he had been required for jury duty, contacted his father to pass on the information.

"I am satisfied that the information obtained, was obtained in the circumstances he sets out in his note and that there has been no misconduct on the part of the juror," he said.

"The simple fact of the matter is that he has learnt that he is a relative of the deceased."

Justice Campbell said despite the fact the juror did not believe he had ever met Cotter, there was a question as to "whether one could truly impartially sit in judgement of a person accused of murdering a blood relative".

A second jury was empanelled the following week, but the presiding judge's ill-health led him to abort the trial on the fifth day. The decision was made following a doctor's appointment in which the judge was advised to see a specialist.

Yesterday, Supreme Court judge Justice Stephen Campbell was back on the bench as both the crown and defence negotiated particulars of the trial.

Mr Gordon looked relaxed as he listened to the conversation from the dock.

A jury is expected to be empanelled this morning, with opening statements to be heard later in the day.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.



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