Ophel Trial Daily Blog – 2019

Thr Supreme Court of the ACT

09.13

14 March – Day 8

Content warning: this article contains discussion of violence and mental illness.

The Court today heard from an expert witness, a psychiatrist. The witness was appearing for the Defence. A great deal of time was dedicated to Ophel’s behaviour in the three years leading up to the incident. This included evidence previously heard, including Ophel’s declining focus on his studies, and his increasingly inappropriate actions in social settings. The court was again shown one of the “Thane Jekyll” Youtube videos, of Ophel laughing at length, allegedly for no discernable reason. These behaviours were compared to the symptoms of schizophrenia listed in the DSM5, a diagnostic tool for psychiatrists.

Time was also spent on Ophel’s alleged delusions. These included an incident where Ophel allegedly could not recognise his own hand, and thought it was going to strangle him; in addition to his alleged repeated references to a “higher power”, compelling him to undertake the attack. Ophel allegedly felt that there was “something else” controlling his conduct, something “better than” human, “more than” right and wrong. The witness also stressed that the premeditated nature of the crime did not preclude a diagnosis of psychosis during the crime itself. It was the view of the witness under examination that Ophel “almost certainly” had a mental impairment at the time of the attack.

In the afternoon session, the Crown examined the defence witness. In questioning, the expert said that the accused ‘probably was’ psychotic before the incident, citing certain behaviours that occurred in the years before the incident. The witness also disagreed with the proposition that schizophrenia inherently make people violent, stating the evidence is “contested”. When specifically questioning whether violent movies increases the likelihood of violent behaviour, the witness replied “professionally speaking maybe yes.” The witness testified to the accused self-reporting his diagnosis as prodromal schizophrenia. The Crown then immediately questioned whether he was the aware that the accused researched life sentences online before the incident, to which the witness replied “yes.”

The witness saw the accused once in preparation for the trial. In cross-examination, the witness noted that the accused was a “reasonable historian, but did require prompting at times.” He also noted that the accused “understood in general terms” what his plea in court meant.

Testimony will continue on Monday.

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

20.52

13 March – Day 7

Content warning: this article contains discussion of violence, mental illness, and sexual violence. Please note that today’s blog contains potentially disturbing descriptions of the contents of Ophel’s phone.

The Court today heard testimony from ANU employees and police witnesses.

A witness from ANU Security explained a data log tendered by the Crown, which details cards used to access the classroom. He testified that students are only able to enter and exit the room if they are granted access through their student ID. The witness estimated the door unlocks for three seconds. The jury were then showed log entries which recorded an attempt to force open the door, and the ID of an earlier witness used to open the door. The Crown also tendered CCTV footage of the accused in Chifley Library before the incident.

The Court then heard from two police officers who attended the scene. The first witness saw “persons” looking “distressed” outside of the classroom. He testified that he took over restraining the accused from ANU Security and yelled at him to “stop resisting”. The Crown then tendered photographs of the scene, and the bat used in the incident. The jury then heard a recording of the officer interviewing the accused shortly after the arrest. In cross-examination, the officer testified to, at the time, considering that the accused might be intoxicated but not being sure. The second police witness testified to physically arresting the accused. He testified that he asked the accused whether he had drugs based on his behaviour. In cross-examination, the witness confirmed his statement describing the accused as “dazed” and “not fully aware of his surroundings”.

The court heard from a police constable who had taken part in apprehending Ophel after the incident. The jury was shown images of the accused’s bag, which the constable had retrieved from the scene of the incident, as well as its contents. Under cross-examination, the constable affirmed that an ANU security guard had described Ophel, after he had been restrained, as “speaking gibberish”, “groaning”, “non-responsive”, and that this eyes were “glazed over”.

The final police witness was a senior constable who had seized Ophel’s mobile phone, laptop, and family computer, and then reviewed their contents. The jury were shown photos that Ophel had saved on his phone. These included a selfie of Ophel holding a sword, and one of him with a US flag banner wrapped around his face. There were also a number of graphic memes about sexual assault and school shootings, and a picture of a child soldier holding a gun.

The Jury were shown a document from Ophel’s family desktop that had been saved in the directory “Poetry”. This poem, titled “The Tower of Babel”, was identified as being very similar to the one posted on Ophel’s facebook page the day before the incident. The jury were then shown a number of videos posted to Ophel’s Youtube channel, Thane Jekyll.

 

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

21.31

12 March – Day 6

Content warning: this article contains discussion of violence and mental illness, and graphic descriptions of injuries.  Please note that today’s blog contains a detailed description of the events of the attack.

The trial has now entered its second week. Today the Court heard from a number of students in Ophel’s statistics class, as well as a doctor who treated victims and a number of ANU staff.

The Court heard from two students who had been in the class and together called ANU Security and the police. One testified that she had been looking at her tutorial questions when she “heard lots of big noise”. She said she saw a male “holding a baseball bat to hit [the tutor’s] head”, and saw the student sitting next to her [the witness] being hit on the head. Both women told the Court that one male student restrained Ophel in a bear-hug, and that other male students helped after Ophel struggled against the restraint. In cross-examination, one of the witnesses said she described Ophel to the police as being “out of his mind” because “he attacked our class without reasons”.

The court heard from a witness who removed the baseball bat from the classroom, running it to CBE reception after Ophel was restrained. Further witnesses included a student who was struck with the bat, and another student in the class who attempted to call the police.

A student from the statistics class also gave testimony. He said he saw Ophel hit a number of students and the tutor. The witness then helped other students restrain him. He told the Court that Ophel initially struggled against the restraint, then stopped, and then struggled briefly again after the classroom door was opened. In cross-examination, the witness was asked about a photo he took on his phone when the police arrived. The photo, which was shown to the Court, was of Ophel lying face down, being restrained by two police officers.

In the afternoon session, the Court heard testimony from one of the victims of the incident, who sustained injuries to her head and left arm. She told the Court she was facing her computer screen, and heard sustained shouting. The witness recounted that as she was turning around to see where the disturbance was coming from, she was struck in the head. She fell to the ground, and was assisted by friends in exiting the room some time later. The Court also heard from a student sitting next to the accused during the tutorial. She witnessed the first alleged assault, and then saw the accused approach the tutor. In cross-examination, the witness stated that the accused during the incident whispered “something like” the phrase “I’m out of control”.

The Court also heard from a doctor from The Canberra Hospital who treated victims on the day of the incident. The jury was shown photos of the injuries of two victims who sustained trauma to the head. The Crown also tendered a 3D image based on CT scans of a victim who sustained compression fractures to the head.

ANU Security personnel also gave evidence. The Court heard that two officers attended the scene within five minutes of being directed by control. One officer entered the room and directed students to exit the building. The other officer helped three other students restrain the accused. The pair swapped roles, so one could assist the AFP in accessing the classroom.

The last witness of the day was an executive of ANU’s Division of Student Life. He testified to the unit sending an “early intervention” email to the accused in the months before the incident due to him receiving an NCN in one of his course during his first semester. In cross-examination, the witnesses agreed it was possible for a student to peter out over a semester and still receive an overall good grade, depending on the assessment structure. The witness said that to the best of his knowledge, the accused did not access services listed in the email.

Crown witness testimony 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

20.41

8 March – Day 5

Content warning: this article contains discussion of violence and mental illness, and graphic descriptions of injuries.  Please note that today’s blog contains a detailed description of the events of the attack.

The Court today heard testimony from four students in Ophel’s tutorial. The Crown presented the Court with medical and audio evidence, while cross examination focused on the accused’s behaviour on the day of the alleged offences.  

The first witness was uninjured, and saw the events of the alleged offences. The witness reported that they first heard a “bang” from behind them. He testified to then seeing the accused hitting two students before moving towards the tutor. The accused then allegedly oscillated between hitting the tutor and other students.

The second witness was the first to be injured during the incident. The Court heard that he became unconscious for “a few seconds” and was hospitalised after the incident. The Court was presented with photos of his injuries. In cross examination, the witness said he believed Ophel had “lost control” due to his aggressive behaviour. He also described the accused screaming during the attack.

The third witness testified to restraining the accused during the incident. He said he grabbed the accused by the waist and pinned him to the whiteboard in the room. The Court heard a 000 call from the incident. The witness testified that he took the phone off the tutor to assist with the emergency call, as there were communication difficulties with the operator. The witness said that Ophel then started to grab a hand of another student, so he further restrained further restrained the accused. In cross examination, the witness agreed with Defence Counsel’s descriptions of the accused being “sleep deprived” and “dirty looking” on the day of the incident.

The final witness aided an injured student during the incident. She eventually left the room, and subsequently also helped a student in a 000 call. A recording of the call was played in Court, with the witness stating “he [the accused] looks a little bit out of it”. The witness said that when ANU Security arrived at the scene, she was concerned “he might flame up again”. In cross examination, the witness testified to seeing the accused “smiling” with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. She also described the accused as “not sober”.

The trial will continue Tuesday after the Canberra Day long weekend.

 

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

19.01

7 March – Day 4

Content warning: this article contains discussion of physical and sexual violence, and mental illness.

 

Today the Court heard from a forensic psychiatrist who was a Crown expert witness. He assessed Ophel twice in the months after the incident at ANU.

In the morning session, the expert witness explained to the jury the diagnosis of schizophrenia as stipulated in psychiatric manual DSM 5. The witness denied that schizophrenia makes individuals inherently violent, stating its not “cause and effect” phenomenon. The witness also agreed to Crown questioning that individuals can be violent before and after a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

The witness produced two reports assessing the accused. The witness testified that in his first report, in May 2018, he made a diagnosis of “a psychosis”. He made the diagnosis of schizophrenia in June 2018 after given further materials by the Crown, and re-examining the accused. The witness testified that in this second session, the accused had competing thoughts between a “higher being,” and knowing the legal consequences of his plan.  He said that the accused stated that his “head was full of violence”.

In cross examination, the Defence questioned the witness on his use of supporting materials in his reports. The expert witness described the accused’s interaction with school shooting material as an “interest”, and not an “obsession” in a psychiatric sense. The witness was also directed to a poem the accused written in the years before the incident. He agreed it made reference to the accused’s “higher being” ideation, but said it was not specifically “delusional”.

The Defence also questioned the witness changing his opinion between the first and second report. The witness said that in his first report, he had “not made a definitive diagnosis”. He said that Ophel experienced a “psychotic episode” after his first report and “at that point, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia”.

The witness was informed of the testimony of Ophel’s parents at the previous trial, in which they reported him being less social and having worse hygiene as he got older. He said that “there can be a lot of reasons why adolescents behave like this”, and that the behaviour can only be diagnosed as “prodromal symptoms” – that is, early precursors – “in retrospect”.

The witness was directed to read a report written by another psychiatrist who was of the view that Ophel met the legal definition of mental impairment at the time of the alleged offending. The witness said that the conflicting report did not make clear whether Ophel had a “schizophrenic illness” or a “developing schizophrenic illness”. “You couldn’t at the time of the prodromal symptoms say ‘this is psychosis’,” the witness said.

Witness testimony 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

15.53

6 March – Day 3

 

Content warning: this article contains discussion of violence, mental illness, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and terrorist acts. Please note that today’s blog contains a detailed description of the events of the attack.

 

Alex Ophel’s trial continued today in the ACT Supreme Court. Witnesses included people who went to school with Ophel, his basketball coach, and the tutor who was among those allegedly attacked.

The first witness of the day was a woman who attended high school with the accused. She stated that friends had told her in high school that Ophel was “interested” in her “romantically”, and that she received two poems from him.

The witness told the court that Ophel would “often say kind of inappropriate things” to her.. The witness later recounted an incident at a party, where she was in a bathroom with friends. “Alex came in…he was holding the door closed,” she said. She told the Court that Ophel pushed her into the bathtub, and later “slapped one of my friends quite hard on the arse”. The witness reported that in early 2015, she told Ophel that she did not want a relationship with him.

The woman received a message on the morning of the alleged attack. This was shown to the Court. In the message, Ophel told her to “stay classy” and to watch a particular slow-mo version of the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video clip.

The witness also said that she believed that a poem called “Maggots”, which Ophel read in a video on his Youtube channel, was about her. She said that she viewed Ophel’s Youtube videos “about two days” after the incident at ANU. In cross-examination, the witness was shown one of Ophel’s videos, in which he laid out “goals” for the “re-introduction of humans into their natural habitat”. She said this did not seem out of character, and that Ophel “would just sort of ramble” when discussing ideas.

The witness said that after the incident in the bathroom, she “was a bit concerned that he might try to hurt someone”.

The Court then heard from another woman who had gone to high school with Ophel. She said that in a Year 9 English class, they had to write a piece with a “suspense theme”. She told the Court that Ophel’s first story was “about a sexual encounter in a classroom” and the teacher “asked him to resubmit it” as it was inappropriate.

The witness also recounted an incident at a party the two attended. She told the Court that they were in a room together, and Ophel “asked [her] to squat”. When she refused, she said, Ophel tried to stop her leaving the room.

The Court was shown a message sent from Ophel to the witness on the morning of the alleged attack. In cross-examination she said that she did not think there was a reason for Ophel to send her the message. She was also shown the video about the “reintroduction of humans” and said that “it sounds like something that could come from [Ophel]”.

The Court heard from another schoolmate of Ophel’s who was present during the bathroom incident at the high school party. She stated that she did not socialise with Ophel much outside of their high school classes. The Court was shown a message sent to her by Ophel on the morning of the alleged attack, calling her a “slut”. In cross-examination, she said that she “assumed either he or one of his friends had sent it while drunk” when she first read the message.

The final witness of the morning also went to school with Ophel. The Court was shown a group chat in which the witness said to Ophel, “you remind me of Elliot Rodger.” In another group chat, the witness said to Ophel, “You have blurred the lines between joke and reality so many times that I cannot tell any more.” The witness said this was after Ophel made “darker jokes”.

The witness told the Court that he and Ophel discussed a 4Chan board that sometimes had content about school shootings. He also told the Court that Ophel had said he could “sympathise” with Elliot Rodger’s motivation.

After lunch, another schoolmate testified that Ophel sent him a text the day of the attack saying, “carry on the family name friendo.” The Court also heard from Ophel’s basketball coach and a teammate who confirmed that he missed both the basketball game and bench-duty the night before the attack.

The Court then heard from the tutor of the statistics class where the attack took place. The tutor testified to being attacked while writing notes on a whiteboard at the front of the room. She said that during the attack she attempted to shield herself with a “hard tutorial book”. She suffered a 2-week long concussion with temporary blurred vision and a “large welt over chest”.

The tutor told the Court that a nearby male student stepped in to restrain Ophel in a “bear like hug” from behind as the tutor attempted to contact security. The witness said that due to mobile signal and communication difficulties with ANU Security, she handed the phone to the student. She testified that while this was happening, Ophel attempted to free himself from restraint.

The tutor said that she then started to look for a student card so that the classroom door could be opened. She told the Court that Ophel grabbed her hair as she went towards the door, and he was ultimately restrained under a table. The Court heard that the attack lasted “in total ten minutes”.

The trial will continue tomorrow, with the Crown calling an expert psychiatric witness.

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

20.34

5 March – Day 2

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

Today was the second day of the trial, after opening statements and the first few witnesses were heard yesterday. Today the Court continued to hear from witnesses who were friends with Ophel at different stages during his schooling.

In the morning session, the Court heard from four witnesses. All were friends with Ophel throughout his teenage years. Each witness stated that Ophel had generally become more distant and detached socially throughout the time period, and became less interested in his academics. Witnesses also spoke about Ophel’s “dark” and “inappropriate” sense of humour.

Particular time was given to one witness, who was friends with Ophel in high school. The witness said they cut ties with Ophel after he (Ophel) allegedly made a sexual remark about a female classmate in a group chat. At a later point, Ophel made another sexual remark about the witness’s girlfriend, at which point the witness ceased to associate with Ophel socially.

A second witness spoke of Ophel’s interest in the film Bowling for Columbine, discussed in a class in Year 11. He told the Court that Ophel  stated he “could sympathise” with the shooters. The witness also spoke with Ophel in his first year at University, when Ophel allegedly complained about his statistics lecturer. The witness said that Ophel criticised her method of teaching and said that he wanted to punch her in the face.    

The Court then heard from a further two witnesses in the afternoon session. One witness testified to giving “feedback” to Ophel in regards to his YouTube channel videos. The Defence tendered some of his videos in the months leading up to the attack. The witness told the Court he believed that Ophel was trying to convey “absurdist humour”, and found them similar to his demeanour in college. The witness reported viewing the ‘farewell’ video before the attack, and said he later downloaded it to his computer. The witness stated that they found the video “ambiguous”, and agreed it was “creepy” when considering the circumstances of the attack. The other witness testified that Ophel shared memes about school shootings.

Witness testimony 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