An apprentice chef has been cleared of murdering a burglar he found inside his home, chased down the street, and put in a chokehold.
A jury on Wednesday accepted Benjamin Batterham’s claim he was making a citizen’s arrest of Ricky Slater in March 2016 and accidentally killed him.
The 35-year-old chased Slater down the street in Newcastle, tackled him, put him in a chokehold, and repeatedly punched him in the head until police arrived.
Apprentice chef Benjamin Batterham has been found not guilty in the NSW Supreme Court of murdering a burglar he found inside his Newcastle home
The Newcastle Supreme Court jury found Batterham, who spent two months in prison after his arrest before being granted bail, not guilty of murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Slater suffered a cardiac arrest following the attack but was revived by paramedics, but had another two cardiac arrests in hospital and died the next day.
The meth addict had scarring to his heart because of regular drug use, suffered liver disease, and was obese.
Defence lawyers insisted throughout the trial that Batterham never intended to kill Slater or cause him serious harm.
Batterham was drinking with a friend, Paul O’Keefe, when he saw Slater in his daughter’s bedroom about 3.20am on March 26 in 2016.
Slater was carrying a blue shoulder bag containing three knives, marijuana, and meth.
Richard Slater suffered a cardiac arrest following the attack but was revived by paramedics, but had another two cardiac arrests in hospital and died the next day
Richard James Slater’s mother, Beryl Dickson, said the 34-year-old ‘had a problem’ with ice and confirmed a photograph of a man smoking from a lit pipe was her son (pictured)
Slater had stolen things of value to Batterham including his partner’s purse and his daughter’s headband before running off.
The court heard during the trial that neighbours tried to get Batterham to let Slater go, but he refused and told the burglar he would kill him.
Multiple witnesses testified that Slater was telling Batterham ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ during the struggle.
Prosecutor Wayne Creasey told the court off-duty policeman Peter Mahon saw Batterham punch Slater a number of times to the head when he was on top of him, pinning him to the ground with his left arm around his neck.
Batterham was telling Slater: ‘You motherf**king piece of s**t. How dare you break into my daughter’s bedroom. She’s only seven months old.’
His partner and baby daughter were not at home when Slater broke in.
When Mr Mahon told Batterham to let Slater go, the chef said: ‘No, he will try to run.’
Mr Creasey said when Batterham did eventually relax his grip, Slater bit him on the hand, which enraged the chef and made him even more aggressive.
Batterham was bitten twice, had his tooth chipped and cheekbone injured during the struggle.
Another neighbour claimed she heard a man during the struggle say ‘I’m going to crack your head like an Easter egg.’
A jury on Wednesday accepted Batterham’s claim he was making a citizen’s arrest of Ricky Slater in March 2016 and accidentally killed him
Beryl Dixon and Tiara Kelly, mother and sister of victim Ricky Slater, pose with a tribute to Ricky, outside Newcastle Court on Wednesday
Witness Darryl Sharpe told the court Batterham was ‘extremely angry’ with the burglar after he caught him.
‘He [Batterham] was still screaming obscenities [at Slater] as he went [home]. ‘He was screaming out ‘You motherf**ker’,’ he said.
Mr Sharpe said Batterham called out at one stage in an aggressive and frenzied voice: ‘Give me two minutes with him. I’ll kill him’.
Mr Sharpe told the jury Batterham was yelling ‘I’m going to kill you’ as he had Slater in a choke-hold and punched him repeatedly in the head.
During a Triple-0 call made as the break-in was taking place, a man could repeatedly be heard saying ‘I’m going to kill you’.
Batterham, like most accused murderers, did not testify in his own case but wrote a letter to the jury that was read out in court.
‘I never intended to cause Mr Slater any serious harm. I wanted to apprehend him and get back was stolen,’ he wrote.
‘I admit I was angry and I hit him, but I was only trying to keep him from getting away. He was constantly struggling and fighting, he bit me on the right arm.
‘All I wanted was for him was to stop.’
Slater’s mother Beryl Dixon kisses her son goodbye before his life support was turned off
Slater suffered a cardiac arrest following the attack but was revived by paramedics, but had another two cardiac arrests in hospital and died the next day
The jury was not told about Slater’s lengthy criminal history during the trial after it was ruled inadmissible.
Slater was sentenced to a minimum four years’ jail for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2007, after pleading guilty to aggravated sexual intercourse without consent.
He was pantsless when he knocked on the young girl’s door on June 6, 2007, before forcing his way inside the home and raping her.
Just four months before his death, Slater was released from jail after his convictions for an aggravated breaking and entering were found to be based on ‘flawed CCTV footage’.
Slater was found guilty of fraud and aggravated breaking and entering after he was charged with forcing his way into a home to steal a wallet, handbag and a car.
Prosecutors claimed the car was later used in the ram raid of an adult store in Sandgate, a suburb in Newcastle, in 2012.