THE atmosphere in Court 13 was suffocating, not only because of the envelope-like structure of the room but also due to the cross examination thrown at the man accused of bashing to death Mila Wills, a deaf and mute Filipina in Morningside last April. Bruce Hughes appeared to be calm and very composed as he answered question after question coming from both the prosecutor and his lawyer. Insisting that he was provoked by the deceased, Hughes held on to his statements which later on were viewed suspiciously by the jurists largely because of his inconsistencies.
In the course of the trial we found out that Hughes was interviewed twice by the police. Both interviews took place in Mt Gravatt station and were recorded by detectives Brian Jackson and Wayne Doss. The statements given during the first one were eventually dis-credited by the second interview when Hughes admitted he was so confused and incoherent that he decided not to tell Jackson and Doss that he was in fact the perpetrator.
When asked why he changed his first statement, Hughes said one of the detectives had promised to help him gain custody of Marissa, his child with the murdered woman. Doss denied the allegation and said all he could remember with regards to "promises" was the chicken and chips for Hughes' lunch and nothing had been mentioned about child custody. The chicken and chips saga became the focus of the first day of trial and many spectators wondered if confession under duress (if it were the case) would be used by the accused as a technical excuse.
It was never discovered what weapon was used by Hughes to bash in Mila's head. Earlier reports suggested that a light coloured piece of timber killed Mila, while her rela-tives theorised that it could be the pestle since it was suspiciously hidden in the sink's drain pipe. The attending doctor from the Princess Alexandra did not specify, nor specu-late, what the weapon could be but, whatever it was, the damage to Mila's head was great and com-parable to injuries one could obtain from a car accident. According to Hughes, the timber he used to bash Mila to death was thrown some-where in Lytton Road on his way to his place in Hemmant at around 6 am. After taking a shower, he chatted with his landlady (as if nothing happened) then drove to Mila's unit in Morningside to start his masquerade.
As stated in his first police interview, Hughes called the attention of Mila's neighbour down-stairs when Mila didn't open the door and asked if he could use the fire exit ladder going to Mila's verandah to check why she didn't open the door for him. Playing his role almost credibly he raised the alarm by apparently 'discovering' that Mila had been attacked.
People living in the unit downstairs didn't hear anything suspicious on the day Mila was killed. The baby produced by the 18-month relationship of Mila and Bruce was crying for a while but neighbours took no special notice.
During the cross examination, he admitted it was when the baby was crying that he and Mila reached the peak of their argument. As Hughes shallowly described, MIla didn't really respond to the baby's cry and, with her effort to throw him out of her unit, Hughes 'snapped' and commenced his vicious attack on Mila from the door to her bedroom where he violently let out those fatal blows upon her head.
Listening to Hughes in court was no less like listening to any traditional politician - you'll get stuffed with inconsistencies. For a moment I thought I was watching Order in the House. Anyway, what was very apparent about Hughes was his obvious lack of respect for the deceased while claiming that all he cared about is his baby, the same baby whom he left with her dying mother on the 3rd of April.
The last day of the hearing was very tense as we waited for the verdict. Would it be murder or manslaughter? Not long after Mila was killed, a man charged of murdering his Filipino wife in Sydney was set free for 'lack of evidence' and of the 16 Filipino women murdered in Australia since 1980 (as far as our research shows) only three were convicted of murder and two for manslaughter, while the rest were released due to inconclusive evidence. To a very unfortunate extent, most of these cases are just filed under unsolved crimes.
It is interesting to note that all those convicted of murder were tried in the state of Queensland. The two earlier cases being that of Teresita Andalis (drowned by her husband David Mathieson in 1980) and Nenita Westhoff (shot by Antonio Juan Curado in 1987).
The Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia (CPCA) with branches in five cities (Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Alice Springs, Adelaide) has caught the attention of media, feminists lawyers and issue-oriented politicians who are showing great concern about the increasing number of violent deaths and disappearances of Filipino women in Australia.
At the time of writing, the CPCA National Office in Melbourne has received a $25,000 grant from the Commonwealth government's Office of the Status of Women for its community project called Stopping Violence Against Filipino Women, a national workshop aiming to bring agencies and community groups together to target possible solutions to stop offenses against Filipino women in Australia.
Likewise, CPCA with the help of feminist lawyers in Melbourne spearheaded the proposition to press for an inquiry to establish reasons and patterns of violent deaths involving Filipino women, many of whom arrived in Australia to become brides.