Ophel Re-Trial Commences

The ACT Supreme Court

Content warning: this article contains discussion of violence and mental illness, and references to terrorist acts.

The re-trial of Alex Ophel commenced today, after an earlier trial resulted in a discharged jury. After three weeks and 21 hours of deliberation, jurors were unable to reach an unanimous verdict in October last year. The trial is expected to run for another three weeks. Ophel is currently charged with five counts of attempted murder and is pleading not guilty due to mental impairment.

On 25 August 2017, Ophel allegedly assaulted his tutor and classmates in his statistics tutorial. He is alleged to have struck his tutor and four students with a baseball bat. He is facing five counts of attempted murder, with alternate charges of intending to inflict grievous bodily harm and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The Crown prosecutor made his opening address this morning, saying that evidence of premeditation of the alleged conduct was “abundantly clear.” Expert medical evidence will also be viewed by the Court, with the Crown warning that psychiatry “has some shortcomings”. He then went on to dispute instances of psychosis before the event, announcing that witnesses from Ophel’s high school and college years will testify to his normal affect before the attack.

In his opening address, the Defence’s Senior Counsel, John Purnell, went through medical evidence after the attack from treating practitioners at various psychiatric facilities. He read to the Court observations of Ophel having ideations of a “good being” during the attack, that “needed him to do as they say”.

The Court then heard testimony from three of Ophel’s peers from high school and college. One testified seeing Ophel viewing an ISIS beheading video in the weekend before the attack. All witnesses saw the accused some time in the two weeks leading up to the attack, and testified that they noticed no change in the accused’s usual social behaviour. In cross examination, one witness conceded that he had no psychiatric training, and another said that Ophel’s ‘farewell’ video “did not make sense”. The testimony of the third witness will continue tomorrow.

Support is available:

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

ANU Crisis Line: 1300 050 327 (5pm-9am Mon-Fri, 24/7 weekends and public holidays)

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