Trial begins of Donegal men accused of murder in Australia

August 26, 2020

The trial has started in Australia of two Donegal men accused of beating a pensioner to death.

Inishowen men Nathan Kelly and Christopher McLaughlin’s murder trial began in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The opening hours of the trial heard claims of how a night out had ended in the fatal assault of Paul Tavelardis.

Mr Tavelardis, 66, died in hospital days after the alleged attack on Grosvenor Cres just after midnight on December 29, 2018, having suffered critical head injuries caused by blunt force trauma.

It will be alleged during the trial he was repeatedly kicked and punched in the head by the heavily intoxicated Mr Kelly, from Glengad and Mr McLaughlin, from Malin, now 23 and 25, when they returned home from a night out.

The friends moved to Sydney on working visas in May 2018 and have pleaded not guilty to murder and will argue they never intended to kill the man.

Nathan Kelly and Christopher McLaughlin

The two men told police the homeless man had tried to break into Mr McLaughlin’s car, with Mr Kelly claiming he approached them “shouting and roaring” armed with a metal pipe, the jury heard.

Mr McLaughlin’s barrister Margaret Cunneen, SC, said the “grossly intoxicated” friends were reacting to a threat that “emerged from the dark”.

Paul Tavelardis died in hospital after allegedly being attacked by the men.

Crown prosecutor Tony McCarthy told the court the duo’s level of intoxication would be a key issue as the prosecution attempted to prove their intent to cause serious harm to Mr Tavelardis.

A police examination of McLaughlin’s ute found no evidence of damage, he said.

Mr McCarthy said witnesses who saw the construction workers at their apartment complex on the corner of Grosvenor Cres and Liverpool Rd, and later at the Summer Hill Hotel, would say they were “very drunk”.

They had been drinking since at least noon when they were first observed downing ciders by the communal pool at the Florida Court apartments and continued into the night at nearby bars, he said.

Mr Kelly left without fuss when asked to by Summer Hill Hotel staff about 11pm after they noticed his red eyes, slurred speech and observed him to be too drunk to put money into a cigarette and poker machine.

He and Mr McLaughlin were later seen in CCTV falling down the stairs in an underpass below Summer Hill railway station due to intoxication, the court heard.

Mr McCarthy said the alleged attack came after Mr Kelly drove Mr McLaughlin home to Grosvenor Cres about 12.30am, where cancer patient Mr Tavelardis had been sleeping in his car across the road from the unit complex in a street that appeared to be a homeless “hub”.

He said several eye witnesses would attest to seeing two men chase and set upon the Indigenous man, who was repeatedly kicked and punched after being knocked to the road.

Mr McCarthy alleged Mr McLaughlin kicked Mr Tavelardis in the back of the head, while Mr Kelly at one point allegedly picked up the victim by his shirt and punched him to the face.

“Get the hell out of here, you’re killing him. I’m calling the police,” Mr McCarthy said he expected one witness would say in evidence.

He said a voice replied: “I don’t care.”

The court heard Mr Tavelardis was “barely conscious” and bleeding from the head, mouth and nose when police arrived.

It appeared he had vomited and soiled himself.

A scan taken at Royal Prince Alfred hospital revealed bleeding in the lining of his brain.

His condition rapidly deteriorated and he never woke up from surgery to drain the internal bleeding, dying after his family decided to turn off his life support on January 7, 2019.

The 170cm-long metal object he was said to be wielding on December 29 was seized by police and shown to the jury this week.

It will be alleged in the trial Mr Kelly had been driving a blue Toyota Corolla, loudly revving the engine and doing a burnout, in the minutes before the altercation.

The court heard Mr Kelly told police in an interview he and Mr McLaughlin confronted Mr Tavelardis after they saw him trying to break into the latter’s ute, with the stranger hitting him in the back with a metal pipe.

He told police he consumed more than a dozen drinks over the course of the night, and that he “hated himself” for how the situation escalated, the court heard.

His barrister David Campbell, SC, told the court his client “vehemently denied” assaulting the victim after he fell to the ground.

Ms Cunneen said Mr McLaughlin never intended to kill Mr Tavelardis.

“A threat emerged from the dark and in reacting to that threat there was no intent to inflict grievous bodily harm on that man,” she said.

The trial continues.