KASAMA Vol. 9 No. 1 / January-February 1995 / Philippines Australia Solidarity Group Queensland

In the "Twilight Zone"

by Emere Distor

ATTENDING court is not good for your health. Friends and relatives of Elma Young who were present at the trial of Paul Young in Brisbane's Supreme Court were continuously suffering from headaches and some from stress due not only to the claustrophobic environment of the courtroom but also because of the revolting legal battle they were witnessing.

The selection of the jury was no longer a surprise. As in the previous Brisbane case where a Filipina was the victim of domestic homicide, no "dark-skinned" or "Asian-looking" individuals were included. And a big "NO" for feminist-looking women (or men). Most of the jurors were middle-aged apart from two men and a woman who looked younger than the rest. One comment I heard was that most of the jurors looked "as if they have been watching the American soapy "Days of Our Lives" all their lives.

Judge Dowsett was the preferential target of the spectators most of the time. If "contempt of court" was never invented, invectives and tomatoes might have been thrown every split second inside Court 13. At the outset, Justice Dowsett argued with the prosecution's counsel, David Bullock, whether to show all the tapes of the police interviews with Paul on video because their length might stretch the attention span of the jury beyond their limits. Justice Dowsett argued that there are cases where showing the videos of interviews is essential but he thought that this case was not one of them.

Many spectators wished that defence barrister Julie Dick was putting the argument for the other side, not only because of her gender but also due to her impressive performance and her talent to play down words like "domestic violence" into "domestic uproar". Ten to fifteen years from now, one should not be surprised if Ms Dick would publish a compilation of trimmed-down words for minimum sentencing.

Two psychologists were invited to the witness stand to prove or disprove the claim of Paul Young that he had an "out of body experience" during the time of the killing. Minus the theme song of the "Twilight Zone" in the background, Paul recalled that he was like watching himself in a movie while squeezing his wife's throat.

Both psychologists gave the entire court their expert opinions of Paul's experience. Because each has differing views on "disassociative state", all those present and even Mr Dowsett became impatient over the difference. A "disassociative state" is defined as a state where an individual is so focused to only one thing and forgets about the entire environment and has no recollection for a period of time. Judging from the recollection of Paul, cynical spectators coined a new definition of "disassociative state" as a mental mechanism to selectively forget some events in order to diminish responsibility.

But what was absolutely distressing about the 7-day trial was the failure to establish the history of domestic violence experienced by the deceased during the course of her marriage. The Department of Public Prosecutions brought Elma's mother all the way from the Philippines only to have her evidence of Elma's ill-treatment at the hands of Paul ruled by Justice Dowsett as "inadmissible". Even the testimony of Elma's 11-year old daughter, Amanda, was interrupted as she was perhaps about to make reference to certain events that occurred prior to the night of Elma's death. The unresolved mystery of this trial is how the jury was supposed to come to a decision, at the direction of the judge about murder or manslaughter, "in the context of Mr and Mrs Young's normal relationship" when the relevant history of the relationship is judged to be inadmissible in Queensland's supreme court.

At the end of the trial everybody was disgusted and physically and emotionally run down. A former lawyer in the Philippines who was in the court on day one decided not to come again as she was dismayed of the legal process she already witnessed. One Filipino supporter already prepared his money in case he would be fined for contempt, and I know of a few who went straight to their family doctors to have their blood pressure checked.

Elma was obviously well known and liked in her community. Six hundred people attended her funeral, messages of sympathy and support have come from her nursing colleagues and patients, community organisations of Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike have expressed their concern for and solidarity with Elma's family. This support to seek justice for Elma brought many people to the public gallery of this trial and through this process of sharing and showing our concern many more of us have learned a bit more about the things we don't like in the Australian "justice" system.