Ophel Trial Daily Blog

This article may contain mentions of detailed and disturbing violence, sexual assault, mental illness and suicide.

15.39

9 October – Day 15

By Skanda Panditharatne

The jury has been discharged in the Ophel trial, having been unable to reach a verdict after 21 hours of deliberation.

This was the second time the jury sent a note to Chief Justice Helen Murrell saying it was having difficulty reaching a unanimous verdict. In response to the first note yesterday, she encouraged the jury to “go back to the beginning” and re-examine the evidence without the views they then held.

In discharging the jury after today’s note, Chief Justice Murrell said that “it seems fairly clear that the jury has thoroughly reconsidered the matter as directed”, and that there was little prospect of a verdict. The Juries Act 1967 (ACT) provides for a jury to be discharged if they are unable to reach a verdict after six hours of deliberation, if the judge is satisfied that the jurors are “not likely to agree.”

The matter has been placed on callover for 29 October, at which point a date for a new trial will likely be set. This new trial may take place at some point in February next year. The Crown estimated that the new trial will take three weeks.

Ophel was remanded in custody until the new trial date is set. He has been in various mental health facilities and prisons since the attack on 25 August last year. An application for bail was refused last December.

 

Eliza Croft contributed to reporting.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

15.05

The jury has been unable to reach a unanimous decision. They have therefore been discharged after four days of deliberation. The accused is remanded to a date to be fixed for further trial.

14.59

Jury deliberations have been ongoing. Yesterday the jury gave a note to Chief Justice Helen Murrell saying they were struggling to reach unanimity. She urged them to persevere.

22.30

5 October: Day 13

There was no verdict in the Ophel trial today. The jury will continue deliberations on Monday.

21.50

4 October: Day 12

By Skanda Panditharatne and Jason Pover

Content Warning: References to mental illness and threats of violence.

The jury began their deliberations today after defence made final statements and her Honour gave the jury legal directions.

Yesterday, the Defence began their closing statement by rebutting a number of submissions from the Crown. The barrister for the Defence began by arguing against the Crown’s suggestion that the testimony provided by the forensic psychiatrists, especially Dr Chieu and Dr O’Dea, was unhelpful. In regard to Dr O’Dea, he told the Court that “not only is he helpful, but he is clearly the best and most expert witness that’s been in this Court”. He continued to state that Dr Chieu’s responses were “perfectly proper [and] logical”, as opposed to being influenced by confirmation bias.

The Defence stressed that in their view, Dr Chieu and Dr O’Dea, who appeared as expert witnesses for the Defence, had more information to make their decision than Professor Greenberg, who appeared as an expert for the Crown. Defence Counsel told the Court that the defence experts “looked at more material” specifically citing the mental health note by the police psychologist, Dr Lyons.

The Defence also suggested the Crown had engaged in an “attack on psychiatry”. They urged the jury to consider the evidence of experts, submitting there was no evidence to throw the opinions of Dr Chieu and Dr O’Dea into doubt.

Defence Counsel further argued that significant evidence was not provided by the Crown in examination of witnesses. They said that the observations of the arresting officer “were never led by the Crown”, despite being of some significance, and asked whether there was “a particular barrow that the Crown is pushing in this case” in not leading that evidence. In a similar vein, they questioned why Ophel’s parents’ testimony from the trial was not put to Prof. Greenberg by the Crown. They also suggested that witness descriptions of Ophel as looking “mad”, “tired”, and “dirty” were not put to the jury by the Crown.

The Defence then returned to the testimonies of Ophel’s parents and friends, arguing that they showed Ophel had shown symptoms of schizophrenia before the attack and that he was not obsessed with school shooters. Defence Counsel suggested that “the parents are clearly honest” in their descriptions of Ophel’s behaviour before the attack. They argued that Ophel had an “interest” rather than an “obsession” with school shooters, noting that psychiatrists had stressed his reputation for truthfulness, and that friends’ testimonies had not shown Ophel to have extreme views.

Defence Counsel also argued that Ophel’s final Facebook post showed that his motivation was related to the ‘higher beings’ he thought to be manipulating him. They told the jury that “he felt he had not choice to attack his colleagues”, and “if you accept this … bring a verdict of not guilty by reason of mental impairment”. He went on to suggest that the idea that the plan formed in his mind without feeling the influence of supposed ‘higher beings’ was “simply crazy”. [End of yesterday]

Today, continuing their closing statement, the Defence concentrated on arguing that the majority of the expert testimony supported some variety of schizophrenia diagnosis, prodromal or otherwise. He advanced the testimony of some experts while critiquing the persuasiveness of others, specifically Dr Greenberg.

Defence noted that the crown had ‘made much’ of Dr Chieu previously being a pupil of Dr Greenberg. The barrister told the jury that they would “recall that Socrates was Plato’s student for some twenty years … and is considered by some the greater philosopher.”

He also questioned Greenberg’s comparison of Ophel’s farewell video with that of Elliot Rogers, quoting the Doctor saying that they shared “similar language”. Defence claimed they were distinctively different in that Ophel’s video did not share the “superiority” and “violence” of Rogers. Finally defence noted that Greenberg admitted that he “hadn’t even seen it [the Elliot Rogers video]” before being shown the video during the trial during cross-examination.

Defence briefly addressed the Crown’s contention that Ophel’s academic performance was declining. He characterised Dr Greenberg’s position as being that he disagreed “with the Crown’s submission in relation to university performance.” He quoted Greenberg as saying that “There was not a deterioration in [Ophel’s] functioning.” Greenberg had originally noted this in the context of claiming such a level of academic success was not consistent with full-blown schizophrenia.

Defence concluded by referring back to the various testimonies of the expert witnesses. He identified that a number of psychiatrists, including Greenberg, claimed that Ophel was symptomatic before and during the attack. He then listed a number of psychiatrists who diagnosed Ophel with either prodromal or full blown schizophrenia.

He also criticised Greenberg for “adjusting his diagnosis on the basis of an additional [DPP] evidence brief”. The Defence Counsel characterised these additional documents as being the same in substance as the previous brief. He proposed to the jury that this was a potential “reason to downgrade his evidence”.

Her Honour then proceeded to direct the jury, explaining their role and duties in making their verdict. She explained the legal tests for the various charges to the jury and explained that “you are the tribunal which the community has entrusted with finding the facts of the case” and that she is “the thirteenth judge, entrusted with the law.” She instructed them to come to their decision on the “basis of evidence” and that juror’s “emotional view of the seriousness of the conduct is not relevant.”

Her Honour went on to explain the elements for the various offences and the defence of mental impairment. She restated the charges, which are five counts of attempted murder with two counts of grievous bodily harm and two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in the alternative for four of the counts of attempted murder. ‘Alternative charges’ can be substituted in if the jury does not believe that attempted murder has been made out on the facts.

The jury deliberated during the afternoon session. Deliberations are expected to continue tomorrow.

 

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons, except in the case of expert witnesses.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

22.27

3 October: Day 11

Content Warning: This post may contain discussions and descriptions of sexual assault, violence, and mental illness.

By Eliza Croft and Skanda Panditharatne

Today the Court heard from a final police witness who physically restrained Ophel from ANU Security. The Crown then delivered a closing statement, and the Defence began theirs.

The police witness noted that Ophel appeared dazed, and was ‘talking in a nonsensical way’ to a tree ‘describing how beautiful it was.’

In their closing statement, the Crown questioned the testimony of Ophel’s parents on his poor academic performance, as he achieved a 92 ATAR, and a distinction, credit, pass and fail in his first semester. The Crown argued that Ophel was “a young man under early pressure to perform”, as he “came from a family of high achievers”. The Crown re-iterated that “we are not seeing a difference in motivation [of Ophel]”.

The Crown then moved to the testimony of Ophel’s schoolmates, and his social media activity in the months before the attack. The Prosecutor argued that there was “an absolute absence of anything resembling” psychosis in the testimony of Ophel’s schoolmates. He recounted that some friends had said he became more withdrawn or said “creepy” things in his College years, but apart from that there had been no changes in his behaviour or personality. The Crown further argued that there was “not a single sign of psychosis in any of the videos” which Ophel posted to YouTube.

It was further argued that the changes noted by Ophel’s parents – such as worse hygiene and giving one-word answers – are “normal teenage behaviour”. On the hygiene point, the Crown argued that Ophel’s parents were describing “a gap between the expectations and how he was”, rather than an objective lack of cleanliness. The Crown cited a psychiatric report which observed that Ophel had good self care.

The Crown also argued that Ophel was under pressure, and that when he entered university, “the stress ramped up”. “This was a young man expected to perform to a minimum standard that was quite high,” the Crown said. The Prosecutor linked this to a conversation Ophel had with Professor Greenberg in which he said that “anyone could kill someone” under the right conditions and if they were under enough pressure.

The Crown then recounted Ophel’s actions in the immediate lead-up to the attack, including Google searches of ACT murder laws, and posts on 4Chan that appeared to be warnings. They argued the attack came “at the end of a process”.

The Crown attempted to cast doubt on claims Ophel had exhibited signs of schizophrenia or psychosis before the attack. “We all want to make sense of things that don’t make sense,” the Prosecutor said, arguing that there may be an inclination to look at behaviours “retrospectively”, and “morph” these to fit an explanation. The Crown pointed out that both of Ophel’s parents were familiar with the symptoms of schizophrenia, and that his father had conceded that he “possibly did” use the term “prodromal” schizophrenia or psychosis around Ophel.

The Crown’s final argument involved casting doubt on some of the psychiatrists and psychologists who had testified. The Prosecutor told they jury that they should not “default to what a psychiatrist thinks”, as “there’s a very good reason why the law entrusts” the mental impairment decision to a jury. “As a science, it [psychiatry]  has many shortcomings,” the Crown argued. They went on to suggest that “vagueness is about the only consistent theme” in the psychiatric reports.

The Crown told the jury that the “crux” of the trial lay in the tests for mental impairment, and invited them to consider the reports of the three forensic psychiatrists in that light. The Crown argued that psychiatric diagnoses are largely based on self-reporting, and noted that it was obviously not possible to find objective external evidence of Ophel’s claim of feeling manipulated by ‘higher beings’. The Crown directed jurors to Ophel’s YouTube videos, arguing that symptoms of psychosis such as confusion and lack of planning are “the exact opposite to what you’ve seen in the videos”.

With reference to the three forensic psychiatrists, Prof. Greenberg, Dr Chieu, and Dr O’Dea, the Crown argued that Greenberg, who appeared for the Prosecution, was the most qualified and competent witness, while criticising the testimonies of the others, who appeared for the Defence. The Crown suggested that Dr Chieu’s clinical assessment of Ophel as impaired by schizophrenia “suffers greatly from confirmation bias”. They also said that Dr O’Dea’s testimony was “of little or no assistance in judging the accused’s mental state at the time of the attack”, accusing him of being “unnecessarily argumentative”.

The Crown argued that Ophel’s real motivation lay in factors unrelated to mental impairment or ‘higher beings’. The Crown suggested that the “real explanation” for Ophel’s alleged violent tendencies could be found in violent videos he watched, and “that combined with looking up to people such as Elliot Rodgers, … [and] stress related to university performance, pushed him over the edge”.

Finally, the Crown argued that suggested the requisite tests for the jury to find mental impairment were not met. After noting “just how fragile accurate psychiatric diagnosis is”, the Crown again stressed that the finding of mental impairment “belongs” with the jury, rather than the expert witnesses. The Crown suggested three tests: “Did the accused know the nature and quality of the conduct?”; “Could he reason with a moderate degree of sense and composure that a reasonable person would view the conduct as wrong?”; and “Could he control his conduct?”. With respect to the first test, the Crown noted that this was not opposed by the Defence, and argued that the expert witnesses indeed agreed that Ophel did not meet the last two tests. The Crown argued that “even if you find there was a psychosis, and that’s a big if”, “having a psychosis does not mean you cannot reason that a reasonable person would consider murder wrong”, or that Ophel had a complete inability to control his actions, as opposed to merely a reduced ability.

The Defence then began their closing statement, which was not concluded before the Court adjourned for the day. Observer will cover it in tomorrow’s post so that the entirety can be together. The jury is expected to begin its deliberations tomorrow afternoon.

 

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons, except in the case of expert witnesses. Eliza Croft was previously tutored in a university course by a member of the prosecution team.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

22.04

2 October: Day 10

By Skanda Panditharatne

Content Warning: References to mental illness, threats of violence and sexual assault.

The Court today continued to hear from police witnesses who were present in the hours immediately following the incident, as well as a psychiatrist who treated Ophel when he was at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC; the ACT prison).

A police witness who was originally called by the Crown last week returned to the stand, confirming further internet search history and screenshots from Ophel’s phone. The witness, through forensic analysis, confirmed Ophel visiting racist 4chan threads and the ACT legislation register in relation to the crime of murder. The witness also confirmed interviewing Ophel on 31 October 2017, where Ophel refused to answer questions without a lawyer. In cross-examination, the Defence questioned the witness on his slow disclosure of rights to Ophel during the interview. The witness maintained that the rights were explained in due course.

The Court also heard from another police witness who first officer to enter Copland G032 after the incident. A recording was played to the jury of the witness giving Ophel his rights upon arrest. Ophel requested Legal Aid. The witness’ recorded observations of Ophel at the time included “possibly intoxicated” and “very calm”.

Following these police witnesses, the Crown also called a psychologist from the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT) who assessed Ophel while he was detained at the watch house. The witness concluded that Ophel did not require emergency treatment, but also stated that he did show signs of psychosis. The witness said that during this assessment, Ophel explained he had been planning the attack for the month prior, and explained the incident in an emotionless manner. The witness confirmed Ophel’s disclosure of sometimes being controlled by a “higher being”.

Under cross-examination from the Defence, the Court heard that this psychologist had written in their contemporaneous report that Ophel had “appeared confused when trying to explain today’s events”. The witness had also noted that it was their impression that Ophel was “displaying some signs suggestive of first onset psychosis”.

The Crown also called an occupational therapist from the CATT who had assisted the psychologist in assessing Ophel’s mental state. The therapist confirmed that Ophel had appeared “confused” when recalling the alleged attack, and provided “strange answers” in response to questions on the matter.

The Court also heard expert evidence from Dr Wyeth, a forensic psychiatrist who had treated Ophel when he was detained at the AMC from 7 September 2017 (after he was moved from the Adult Mental Health Unit (AMHU) in hospital) to 18 June 2018 (when he was transferred to the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit). Wyeth told the Court that she believed Ophel “was mentally impaired at the time” of the alleged attack, “because he had delusions, including delusions of control”. Wyeth testified that her “working diagnosis” for Ophel was one of schizophrenia, with a differential diagnosis of a schizoaffective bipolar disorder. She said that Ophel had told her he felt like there was “a cube dissolving in the back of his head” and that he was “living in a diorama” when reflecting on his psychotic episodes.

Wyeth told the Court that she found it “compelling” that Ophel’s symptoms returned when off medication. The Court heard that Ophel had been off medication three times, on two occasions due to his refusal to accept it and on the other occasion due to a clerical error. Wyeth testified that Ophel’s last period of refused medication was what led to his transfer to the Dhulwa secure mental health facility, as he had expressed a desire to murder his cellmate and sexually assault his caseworker.

In cross-examination, the Crown suggested that Wyeth was reliant on Ophel’s self-reports and that her diagnosis differed from that of doctors at AMHU, who had not diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Wyeth told the Court that what she was told by Ophel was “consistent with the reports of others” and previous clinicians, and that she “never had any reason to suspect he was malingering or trying to manage our impression of him”. In response to the difference in diagnoses, Wyeth testified that she had read the notes of doctors who saw him at AMHU, and that while she found it “understandable that someone would err on making a formal diagnosis” she found “clear evidence of active psychosis” in the case notes.

The Crown also pressed Wyeth on her testimony in support of Ophel’s unsuccessful bail application on 14 December last year. Wyeth had referred Ophel for bail at Brian Hennessy House, a lower security facility. When asked by the Crown if her recommendation was “wrong” in light of his later threats of murder and sexual assault, Wyeth denied that it was, saying “I stick by it … my violence risk formulation for Mr Ophel is that outside of his mental illness he does not have a violence risk”. Wyeth noted that he was refusing antipsychotic medication at the time of making those threats, saying that “he’s violent when he’s psychotic and I don’t think he’s likely to be violent when not psychotic”.

Finally, the Court briefly heard from a police officer who had examined Ophel’s bag from the scene. The officer testified that items inside the bag included a bottle of port, binder books, and a laptop. Under cross-examination from the Defence, the officer told the Court that he had spoken to a member of the ANU Security team who attended the scene. The officer said the ANU Security member had told him that when he saw Ophel, he was speaking gibberish, to the point that “he didn’t recognise what [Ophel] was saying, and thought possibly it was Chinese”.

Closing statements are expected to be heard tomorrow.

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons, except in the case of expert witnesses.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

19.57

28 September: Day 9

Skanda Panditharatne and Jason Pover

Content Warning:  This post may be highly disturbing. It contains graphic descriptions of violence and sexual assault. Support services are available at the bottom of the page.

Proceedings in the Supreme Court continued Friday, with the jury hearing from Ophel’s treating physicians after the incident, and seeing more videos from Ophel’s YouTube page.

In the morning session, the Court heard from an ANU witness who retrieved information on Ophel’s internet usage prior to the incident. CCTV footage and map data showed that Ophel logged onto the ANU network at Chifley Library. The witness stated that Ophel’s internet search history was unable to be located.

The Court then heard testimony from a series of witnesses who oversaw Ophel’s treatment after the incident. Dr Bhatia oversaw his treatment while at the High Dependency Unit at Calvary Hospital, where Ophel reported he had thoughts of a “higher being” a week before the incident. Bhatia wrote Ophel’s application for emergency detention, making a diagnosis of “prodromal psychosis”. In cross-examination by the Crown, Bhatia stated Ophel had no auditory hallucinations, nor evidence of a thought disorder.

The Crown prosecutor quizzed Dr O’Neil on the purpose of her diagnosis at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Upon being asked to confirm that her diagnosis of schizophrenia related to prospective treatment not Ophel’s state of mind at the event, O’Neil conceded this while maintaining that Ophel’s “historical symptoms” at the time of the attack were relevant to her diagnosis.

The Crown also spent time going through potential inconsistencies in form of Ophel’s psychotic symptoms. Ophel had said to O’Neil that “higher beings” had told him to assault his cellmate. However, later, Ophel described having “thoughts that weren’t his own thoughts” of violently raping his female case manager during his stay there. O’Neil maintained that these were both consistent with a schizophrenia diagnosis, characterising the two as “auditory hallucinations” and “thought injection” respectively.

During the afternoon session, the Court heard the evidence of Dr Barker, a forensic psychiatrist at the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit (MHU). Barker testified that he had treated Ophel for several months after he was moved to the Dhulwa MHU in June, seeing him on approximately 15 occasions (in many cases alongside the aforementioned Dr O’Dea). Barker told the Court that it was his view that Ophel had suffered a “longstanding illness” of schizophrenia that “crystallised” at the time of the attack. He said that while it was “difficult to say exactly when he developed schizophrenia”, it was “probably sometime in the weeks to months preceding the offence”, and that Ophel “seems” to have been delusional around the time of the attack.

The Court heard further evidence from Barker regarding Ophel’s transfer to the Dhulwa MHU. Barker told the Court that Ophel had become “noncompliant” with his antipsychotic medication while incarcerated at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, and thus had to be moved to the Dhulwa facility as “staff were quite concerned as to what might occur if he was untreated at the prison”. Barker testified that Ophel’s family had told him that Alex Ophel’s mental state had declined after reading the first report of Prof. Greenberg, citing it as “one of the factors” Ophel had stopped taking his medication. Barker gave evidence that after stopping his medication, Ophel had told staff he was considering killing his cellmate and sexually assaulting his caseworker, which ultimately led to his transfer to the MHU.

Barker also gave evidence that while he had previously “had no reason to believe” Ophel was hearing voices, he had seen footage of Ophel talking to himself in CCTV footage from Thursday morning. Barker said that Ophel’s reactions in the footage were “really unusual” and possibly the result of the stress of the trial. Barker noted that he had provided Ophel with additional medication during the trial.

During cross-examination, Barker also stressed that Ophel had seemed to be truthful in his interactions with him. He said that “something that’s quite remarkable is that he seems to be exceedingly truthful when asked a question, even to his own detriment”.

Following this, the Crown recalled a police officer to enter into evidence more videos uploaded to Ophel’s YouTube channel. The Court saw four videos. The first, created on 13 June 2017, was called “10 things that must happen to stop total annihilation of the world”, which suggested humanity should embark on a program of “de-intellectualisation”. The second, created on 19 June 2017, was called “I read out comments from YouTube! And a surprise!”, and showed Ophel reading out comments on previous videos of his. The third, also created on 19 June, was called “Funny meme fails! You won’t believe what a loser!”, and featured Ophel reading out pun-based jokes from an online list. The final video shown, from the 30 July 2017, was called “Why all my relationships are terrible”, and showed Ophel reading out messages from a Facebook group chat he was involved in. In this video, Ophel used the pseudonyms of “High Horse” and “Antichrist” for members of the group chat, and talked about the breakdown of those relationships, saying that “support networks are gone, all those people you’ve known for a long time, you’re not seeing much”. At one point in the video, he broke down into choking laughter for almost a minute.

The officer was also presented with evidence of Ophel’s internet use during June-July 2017. The Court was shown a thread that Ophel accessed from 4chan board ‘ROBOT 9001’ (r9k) entitled ‘female shaming thread’. One message in the thread, accompanied with a picture of a woman, said “Typical shameless degenerate, spends most of the weekend on her knees. I have a memory of shoving a beer bottle down her throat”. The Court has previously heard evidence on an earlier day that Ophel told a friend he shoved a beer bottle down a woman’s throat at a party. The Court was also shown evidence of Ophel’s Google searches, including a number for “ANU course counsellor” and one for “What if you could see the impact of your writing”.

The trial continues Tuesday.

 

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons, except in the case of expert witnesses.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

20.35

27 September: Day 8

By Eliza Croft and Skanda Panditharatne

Content Warning:  This post may be highly disturbing. It contains graphic descriptions of violence and sexual assault. Support services are available at the bottom of the page.

The Court today continued to hear evidence from psychiatrists called as Defence witnesses, who gave opinions on Ophel’s presenting symptoms, including an expert who specialises in sexual disorders who diagnosed Ophel with “sexual sadistic disorder”.

The Crown this morning cross-examined Defence expert witness Dr Chieu, who questioned his findings in relation to Ophel’s reported symptoms before the incident. Across multiple questions, the Crown asked whether certain behaviours in isolation led to Chieu’s finding of psychosis, which Dr Chieu denied.

The Court was also referred to the DSM-5 (a manual used by mental health professionals which lists diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses), and Chieu was questioned on Ophel’s symptoms in relation to that criteria. This requires substantially impaired functioning for someone to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, which Chieu had written could be seen in Ophel’s “notably poorer performance” socially and academically. The Crown put to Chieu that there was not enough evidence to suggest a substantial decline, with Chieu conceding it was “possible”.

The Court also heard from another Defence expert witness, Dr O’Dea, a psychiatrist who specialises in sexual disorders. He examined Ophel twice in mid-September this year. He told the Court that “a mosaic of circumstances” led him to have the opinion that it is “reasonable to argue … on balance … Mr Ophel was suffering from a mental impairment” at the time of the attack.

O’Dea told the Court that he believed Ophel may have a “psycho-sexual disorder” and “paraphilia”, though he explained that these “wouldn’t be seen as mental illnesses” in the technical sense. He said he believed Ophel’s behaviours and beliefs were not a sign of “psychopathy” or another “personality disorder”, but rather are “better understood as a developing schizophrenic illness in a young man”. O’Dea told the Court that it was his belief that Ophel was in an “acute phase” of schizophrenia at the time of the attack.

In the afternoon session, the Defence concluded their examination-in-chief of O’Dea. He was taken through elements of the reports of Dr Greenberg, the expert witness for the Crown who testified Tuesday. The Court heard that O’Dea was “very confident” in Ophel’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, noting that while Ophel may have had prodromal symptoms earlier, by the time O’Dea examined him this month Ophel had developed “a full schizophrenic illness”. O’Dea told the Court that “it is very reasonable to assume that the psychiatric disorder [schizophrenia] was active as of that time [the attack on 25 August last year]”.

The Crown then cross-examined O’Dea. He disagreed somewhat with the proposition that psychiatric diagnosis is largely dependent on the honesty of the person being diagnosed, noting that it is a “significant component” but not the only component. This had also been put to Chieu earlier today by the Crown. Chieu replied that psychiatrists “are used to making diagnoses from people who are not forthcoming with their symptoms”.

In particular, O’Dea noted a “blunted affect” in Ophel when he examined him earlier this month, and refuted the suggestion that this could be attributed to medication, noting that the effects of antipsychotic medication are “similar to but not the same as a blunted affect”. Chieu earlier described “blunted affect” as meaning “relatively emotionless … in the way they appear”. Chieu confirmed that Ophel appeared to exhibit a mild “blunted affect” during his examinations this year.

The cross-examination also focused on more elements of Ophel’s planning of the attack. The Court heard that Ophel had researched how to kill people with a baseball bat online, noting that he “thought you maybe had to hit them more than once to kill them”. He had reportedly looked in his parents’ shed for an axe, but, failing to find one, settled on the baseball bat.

In response to questions asking if such “goal-oriented” thinking is associated with schizophrenia, O’Dea replied that it “can be”, though in other cases the thinking can be more disorganised. This was also put to Chieu, who stated that goal-oriented thinking can coexist with psychosis. The Court heard that the “physical act” of using a manual weapon was important to Ophel, as opposed to using a weapon like a firearm.

The Court heard that Ophel had told O’Dea that his intention had been to kill all members of the tutorial except for one woman, whom he planned to sexually assault. He had told O’Dea that the plan to sexually assault a woman was “an afterthought” rather than pre-planned. He had said that his plan was then to “run around the campus covered in the dead person’s blood” after these acts. O’Dea noted that he found it “difficult to understand where the rape came from” in response to questions from the prosecution about Ophel’s professed belief in a “higher being” commanding his actions, but said that he found it difficult to believe that Ophel could have realistically killed all the people in the class and sexually assaulted a woman without being stopped. He said that this demonstrated that Ophel’s judgement, at the time, was “very much impaired”.

The Court also heard that Ophel told O’Dea that he had previously thought about such an attack, but not gone through with the act as he feared he might be stopped. He told O’Dea he chose the particular tutorial because there were “smaller women” in it, and relatively few men. The Court heard that to avoid the potential of being physically restrained, Ophel told O’Dea he deliberately hit one of the male students first, and only failed to hit another male student because he thought he had an “effeminate voice” and thus wouldn’t be able to stop him. The Court also heard that Ophel had drank alcohol on the morning of the attack, which the prosecutor suggested was “Dutch courage”.

O’Dea also gave evidence in response to the cross-examination relating to psychosexual disorders suffered by Ophel. O’Dea said he had diagnosed Ophel with a “sexual sadistic disorder” and other fetishes, which O’Dea linked specifically to internet pornography. He suggested that the impact of such pornography was to desensitise sexual responses, so that more violent material was increasingly necessary to arouse sufferers. The Crown suggested that in this case, the pornography had led to the psychosexual disorders, rather than vice versa, which O’Dea agreed with. The Court heard that Ophel had watched increasingly violent pornography, though O’Dea noted Ophel had described it as “more extreme porn, not violent porn”. Ophel had also watched various violent videos such as ISIL beheadings.

The trial continues tomorrow.

 

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons, except in the case of expert witnesses.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

20.51

26 September: Day 7

By Skanda Panditharatne

Content Warning: This post contains discussions and descriptions of sexual assault, violence, and mental illness.

The Court today heard from a police officer who went through Ophel’s electronics, and a psychiatrist who examined Ophel twice. The Court was adjourned early due to a plumbing issue.

First to testify today was a police officer who examined Ophel’s mobile and the family computer after the incident. The Crown confirmed with the witness that he retrieved a series of images and screenshots that date back to 2015. These included explicit images and memes with phrases such as “54% of women ejaculate during rape”. The AFP also found on Ophel’s phone a screenshot taken from the YouTube video of school shooter Elliot Rogers, and a photo of a child soldier.

The Court also viewed two videos from Ophel’s YouTube channel that were published in the months before the incident. In one video titled “Show these to your bullies and we’ll see who is boss”, Ophel recited a poem called “hickory dickory”. The jury were also shown a vlog-style video called “Why the world is terrible and needs to be changed”. Apart from confirming these materials and tendering them to the Court, neither the Crown or Defence questioned the police witness about the evidence.

In the afternoon session, the Court heard from a second forensic psychiatrist, Dr Chieu, as an expert witness for the Defence. Chieu, who had examined Ophel twice, gave evidence agreeing with some elements of the testimony of the Prosecution’s expert forensic psychiatrist, Prof Greenberg, and disagreeing with others. Chieu agreed with elements of one of Greenberg’s reports that Ophel seemingly “could not control his conduct” at the time of the attack.  Chieu was presented with sections of witness testimonies from earlier in the trial, including: Ophel’s parents’ statements that he had become withdrawn and unfocused in the months before the attack; his erratic final messages to friends and ex-schoolmates; and testimonies of witnesses to the attack, some of whom had described him as “not in his right mind”. Chieu agreed that this evidence presented “at the very least, a description of prodromal schizophrenia”. Chieu went on to tell the Court,  “my opinion is that he had a mental illness at the time [of the attack], beyond reasonable doubt.”

In cross-examination of Chieu, the Crown noted testimony from the Greenberg that psychiatric diagnosis is “certainly not infallible”. Chieu told the Court that a diagnosis of a “primary mental disorder” such as schizophrenia was more than a description of behaviours. It was put to Chieu that it is “relatively normal” for an adolescent male to display withdrawing behaviour such as that testified to by his parents. Chieu agreed, but noted the context of the other symptoms of schizophrenia.

The afternoon session was interrupted an hour before the scheduled adjournment, as it was announced that a “technical malfunction” had occurred in the building. It emerged that the sewage lines in the Supreme Court had backed up, and that all the bathrooms were flooding. To allow staff to deal with the issue, the Court was adjourned early, and will restart early tomorrow. This will require video calling Chieu.

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons, except in the case of expert witnesses.

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a dedicated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

21.26

25 September: Day 6

Content warning: This post contains discussions and descriptions of violence, sexual assault, and mental illness.

By Jason Pover and Eliza Croft

Today the Court heard evidence from a forensic psychiatrist as an expert witness for the Crown. He prepared two reports on Ophel’s mental state, one in May of this year and one in August, with his opinion changing somewhat across these two reports.

The psychiatrist told the Court about the process of diagnosing schizophrenia. He said there was “diagnostic uncertainty” in the fortnight after the attack when Ophel was at The Canberra Hospital. “There wasn’t sufficient evidence” to diagnose schizophrenia “at that time”, he said.

The psychiatrist also said that Ophel had had “thoughts and impulses of violence” three or four years before the attack. He told the Court that Ophel told him he had “decided to do it and made preparations” a week before the attack. The psychiatrist said he believes this “infers an element of choice” in Ophel’s actions. Ophel also reportedly said he knew his actions would be “wrong against society”, but that he thought they were a “good” thing for him to do as he was “special”.

Many of the Defence’s questions related to why the witness had changed his initial diagnosis, which was initially “amorphous, non-specific” mental health issues. The final diagnosis was “prodromal schizophrenia”, which the witness described as a forerunner of psychosis. However, the final diagnosis maintained that Ophel “was not psychotic at the time [of the attack]”.

The psychiatrist distinguished between Ophel’s current mental state and his state at the time of the attack. The witness said that it was not certain that Ophel “met the symptoms [of schizophrenia] at the time” and that he believed Ophel may not have met the legal “bar of not being able to reason”.

Counsel for the Defence quizzed the witness on whether any of the observations from students from the attack itself could be characterised as evidence that Ophel was psychotic at the time of the attack. Defence referred to testimony from earlier witnesses that Ophel was “smiling with his tongue out” and looked as if he was “not in control”. The psychiatrist said that it is “not necessarily useful to refer to the descriptions by lay people” because psychiatric terms have specific meanings.

The witness was then asked about other aspects of Ophel’s mental state. He said that he also diagnosed him with “paraphilia and related personality traits”. The expert defined paraphilia as “sexual deviancy”. The Court also heard of Ophel’s violent sexual fantasies.

The Crown briefly re-examined the witness. He asked the witness whether he would “agree that reduction in hygiene [by Ophel]” and a reduction in “the communicativeness of an adolescent male” would not “necessarily be a sign of psychosis”, the psychiatrist simply replied “yes”.

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons.

 

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a didcated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

21.56

24 September: Day 5

By Eliza Croft and Skanda Panditharatne

Content warning: This post may be highly disturbing. It contains graphic descriptions of violence and injuries. Support services are available at the bottom of the page.

The Court has heard that Alex Ophel was restrained in a bearhug hold by a classmate after last August’s attack on students in a Copland classroom. Today, the Court heard a number of witnesses to and victims of the attack, as well as medical experts and responders from ANU Security.

The Court heard from other members of Ophel’s statistics class, including several who were injured in the attack. The first student injured during the incident told the Court that he sustained fractures to the skull and lost part of his finger. Other students testified to Ophel striking the back of a student’s head with the bat, and hitting the tutor several times while she was on the ground. Another witness sustained a fracture to their left arm, and told the Court that she heard Ophel screaming during the attack.

The Court also heard from a witness who restrained Ophel during the incident. Ophel attempted to break free from the witness as they tried to assist the tutor in calling police. Three or four students eventually restrained Ophel on a table until ANU Security arrived.

Two calls to emergency services were played in Court, with witnesses testifying that language barriers impeded the ability of operators to locate the incident. One witness, who was tending to the wounds of another student, eventually took over a call in order to relay details.

This witness reported that Ophel “was a bit out of it” and “not sober” before the incident. Another witness said that Ophel was “smiling” during the attack, and that she heard him say while he was being restrained that he had “lost control”. A third witness described Ophel as having appeared calm but “a little bit scared” before the attack, and “angry” during the attack.

Three then-ANU Security workers who attended the scene also testified. One told the Court that he received a call saying “a person was hitting someone with a large stick”. He directed two roaming Security workers to attend the scene. The two roaming workers told the Court that they arrived before the police, with one helping students restrain Ophel while the other directed police to the scene.

ANU’s Security Operations Manager explained the University’s swipe card access system to the Court. A swipe log was presented to the Court, with the witness explaining it. Ophel’s card was used to swipe into Copland G032 at 9:04am. At 9:15am, there was a “forced door” event – someone attempted to open the door without swiping a valid card. The door “resecured”. On two occasions between 9:15am and 9:22am, a card was swiped but the door was not opened. Then, at 9:22am, a card was swiped and the door was opened. It was then left open, with an operator overriding the system to unlock the door about ten minutes later.

The Court also heard from a doctor who treated the victims at hospital. She testified that two victims received “depressed” skull fractures – that is, where the skull breaks in such a way as to create a depression, with the bone in “multiple pieces”. She told the Court that a male victim who received such a fracture also received an injury on the middle finger of his third hand. The end of his finger had the bone shattered, and the “nail was … removed from the finger”. The student ultimately lost the tip of his finger. The doctor told the Court that these injuries indicate the use of “significant force”. The Court was shown graphic photographs of these victims’ injuries.

The doctor described another student’s broken arm as a “dislocation injury”. Their ulna was broken and displaced near the elbow, and the radius was dislocated from the elbow. The Court was shown an X-Ray of the fracture, and heard from the doctor that, “in a young, healthy adult … it’s a significant amount of force” needed to inflict such damage.

A University administrator told the Court that Ophel had been sent an “early intervention” email in July, after failing a computer science course. The Court was shown the email, which detailed academic and pastoral support services. The Court was also shown Ophel’s transcript.

Tomorrow, the Court will hear from a number of expert witnesses.

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons.

 

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a didcated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

 

20.17

20 September: Day 4

By Skanda Panditharatne

Content warning: This post may be highly disturbing. It contains graphic descriptions of violence, mentions of suicide, descriptions of misogyny, mentions of bullying, and mentions of terrorist acts. Support services are available at the bottom of the page.

The Court has heard that the tutor in the STAT1008 class which was attacked by Alex Ophel last August had problems communicating the incident to ANU Security, who ultimately only arrived after police, despite being called first. The Crown continued its case yesterday, calling a number of victims of the attack, as well as friends and basketball teammates of Ophel.

The tutor of the class told the Court that she was hit repeatedly with a baseball bat during the attack, and credited her relatively minor injuries to protecting her head with a hard notebook. She said that after suffering at least one blow to the head and another to the chest, she swiped her card so that people could leave the room, despite Ophel pulling her away by her hair. The room in question, Copland GO32, still requires a student/staff card to be swiped to open the door from the inside.

She and other victims testified that Ophel was ultimately subdued by a male student, who held him in a bearhug while others escaped and called for help. One student told the Court that she took the baseball bat out of the room to prevent him using it, and ran with the bat to the College of Business and Economics building to seek help.

The tutor told the Court that she had tried to call ANU Security twice after Ophel was restrained, but had issues communicating the attack to them, saying that the phone signal in the room was bad and that her voice was shaken. Ultimately, she called the police, who arrived on the scene before ANU Security. The police officers will testify on Monday.

The Court also heard from a number of other victims of the attack, who recounted highly graphic scenes of violence. Students told the Court that Ophel arrived around ten minutes late to the tutorial, and at some point early in the lesson, he stood up and started hitting people with a baseball bat. One said she “thought it was a prank” when she first saw Ophel hitting the tutor, but soon realised it was real and hid under a table.

The Court also heard from a friend of Ophel, who testified as to them having a mutual interest in the school shooter Elliot Rodgers. Counsel for the defence suggested to the witness that he and Ophel were planning to make a video about school shooters, including Rodgers. The witness said that this “might have been” the case but clarified that they, with another friend, were in the “planning stages” for a video about a fictional “bullied student” who “had the capabilities” of becoming a school shooter. The witness stressed, however, that they regarded the whole thing as a “big joke”. Facebook messages from January 2016 were presented to the Court showing the witness telling Ophel that “You remind me of Elliot Rodger” and asking him “Do you find it an injustice that all girls find you creepy Alex”. Ophel replied, “I used to but I’ve moved past that”.

Further Facebook messages showed this witness telling a Facebook chat group that “Elliot realised the only way out of injustice was suicide … you should try that Alex”. Ophel replied to the group “Nah man my own philosophy tells me the only thing that matters is happiness”. Messages from June 2017 showed Ophel saying “The percentage of sexually active people has being going down for years, while the amount of sex has been dropping more slowly … indicating … an oligopoly on pussy”.

The same witness, who appeared via Skype from overseas, told the Court of an incident in which Ophel said he had “shoved a beer bottle down a girl’s throat” at a party. He also said that Ophel had drunkenly taken off his shirt and tried to start a fight at another party in Year 11. He testified that Ophel’s sense of humour became darker and “sicker” in college (Years 11 and 12). He told the Court that Ophel told him, “if I don’t get a girlfriend in the future I’ll end up sexually abusing someone instead”. The witness also spoke of a “disturbing message” a few days before the attack, in which Ophel sent the witness a picture of a mutual acquaintance with the message that he “wanted to abuse her in some way”.

The Court also heard from a member of Ophel’s basketball team and coach of the team. They testified that Ophel was a generally unaggressive player, and that he had asked others to fill in for a scheduled timekeeping/scoring duty session the night before the attack.

The trial continues Monday.

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons.

 

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a didcated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

21.37

19 September: Day 3

By Eliza Croft

The Ophel trial continued today, with the Court hearing that he had told a friend he “could sympathise” with the Columbine shooters in light of the bullying they faced. The Court heard from a number of Ophel’s schoolmates, and his mother was examined further.

Ophel’s mother told the Court that she felt he was tense the evening before the attack. She recounted conversations with him after the attack, while he was in custody at various facilities, where he told her that he felt some movies and TV shows had a special meaning to him. She told the Court he was moved to the Dhulwa mental health unit from jail after he stopped taking his medication, believing it would make him “disappear”. There, he was medicated by injection under a court order.

A number of Ophel’s school friends told the Court that he excelled academically and did well at sports, particularly basketball. Most also reported him to have been “normal” socially, though some considered him reserved, particularly during his college years (Year 11 and 12).

The Court heard that Ophel had lost some friends in his later school years. One witness told the Court he would say “provocative” things and another testified that he had said “creepy” things. A number of friends who had been in a Facebook Messenger group chat with Ophel confirmed to the Court that he had messaged “where my Nazis at” a few days before the attack. One school friend told the Court this was “out of the blue”.

Another of Ophel’s school friends told the Court that he and Ophel had watched the film Bowling for Columbine as part of Year 12 English. While watching this, Ophel told his friend that he “could sympathise” with the Columbine shooters, in light of the bullying they experienced. The same witness told the Court that, when the pair talked part-way through 2017, Ophel reported that he was failing a statistics class and that he would have to re-take the course in Semester 2. He said that Ophel told him the course was not taught or assessed well, and that Ophel called the lecturer a “dumb bitch” and said he wanted to “punch her in the face”.

A number of Ophel’s schoolmates told the Court that he had been romantically interested in a particular female friend. She gave testimony, telling the Court that she knew Ophel was interested in her. The woman said that she and Ophel talked regularly in high school (Years 7 to 10), and that Ophel would often make joking sexual comments. The woman told the Court that she received a poem from Ophel which he delivered in person in Year 10, and later that year she received a second poem in her mailbox at home signed “your ‘mystery’ admirer”. She told the Court she believed the handwriting to be Ophel’s.

The woman also recounted an incident at a high school party to the Court. She said that Ophel came into the bathroom where she was talking to other female friends, closed the door, and prevented them from leaving. She told the Court that he then pushed her into the bathtub, and “slapped [another girl’s] arse quite hard”.

After the two went to separate colleges, the woman told the Court that she told Ophel she did not wish to have a relationship with him. A different schoolmate told the Court that Ophel had not seemed excessively upset by this.

The Court was shown a message that Ophel sent to the woman on the day of the incident at ANU. Until that point, he had not contacted her since 2015. The message reads, “stay classy, listen to ‘smells like teen spirit slowed’ (search on youtube), click on the black and white one”.

The trial continues tomorrow, and is expected to run into a third week.

Note: Names of witnesses have been omitted for privacy reasons. Eliza Croft was previously tutored in a university course by a member of the prosecution team.

 

If you have been sexually assaulted, or affected by a sexual assault, support is available:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm)

1800 RESPECT (24/7)

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

21.56

18 September: Day 2

By Skanda Panditharatne

The ACT Supreme Court today heard that Alex Ophel believed he was influenced by a “higher being” when he allegedly attacked classmates in a Copland classroom at ANU in August last year. The Court heard opening statements from the defence today, as well as testimony from Ophel’s parents and schoolmates.

The defence argued in its opening statement that the jury should return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of mental impairment. Barrister John Purnell SC, appearing for the defence, conceded that Ophel had committed the attack, which severely injured several students. However, the defence maintained that Ophel was under the influence of then-undiagnosed schizophrenia when the attack occurred. The Court will hear from experts on Ophel’s mental state in the coming days.

The Court heard evidence from Ophel’s parents and a number of schoolmates in today’s testimony. Ophel’s father told the Court that in the months since the attack, the accused had exhibited a number of highly troubled behaviours, and was “just a shell of the person that he is” when in hospital after the incident. He gave evidence that the accused had self-harmed while in a secure care unit in November 2017, after the attack. Ophel’s father went on to testify that the accused had told him he was worried that his own hand would strangle him. The Court also heard that months after the attack, Ophel had told his father that he had been “walking past the room [where the attack happened] and he realised that’s where it had to happen … the room chose him”.

Ophel’s mother told the Court that the accused had told her, “I have the ability to communicate with higher beings,” when in secure care after the attack, which were telling him not to take his medication. The Court heard from Ophel’s mother that she had noticed “concerning” changes in his behaviour since he was in Year 11, including less socialisation, sport, and communication. She testified that by the time Ophel began at ANU in 2017 her “sharing a sentence [with Ophel] in a day was an achievement”.

The Court also heard that Ophel had sent a number of messages to ex-schoolmates in the minutes before the attack. The Court was presented with evidence that on the morning of August 25, 2017, Ophel had sent a message to a group chat saying “Good luck, much love”. The Court was also shown another message from Ophel to an ex-schoolmate currently studying medicine saying “Have fun killing yourself hahah “doctor” no one will ever love you [sic]”.

The trial continues tomorrow.

Jessica Whiting contributed reporting.

 

Support is available:

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm) – counselling for those affected by sexual assault, with a didcated counsellor on campus

1800 RESPECT (24/7) – sexual assault and domestic violence counselling and information

The Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (24/7) – free phone counselling for anyone affected by suicide

The Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT): 1800 629 354 (24/7) – assessment and treatment of mentally ill people in crisis situations

21.55

Welcome to Observer’s daily blog of the Alex Ophel trial. Please be aware that content discussed in this blog may be disturbing, including mentions of detailed and disturbing violence, sexual assault, mental illness and suicide. Ophel has been charged with a number of offences, including attempted murder, in relation to an alleged attack with a baseball bat on classmates and a tutor in a Copland classroom in August last year. The first day of proceedings, including the prosecution’s opening statement, is summarised in our earlier article here. Observer will be providing daily updates on the trial, which is scheduled to go until at least 2 September