How Justin Stein coolly told his murder trial a tall tale of Charlise’s killer being her mum Kallista – but it all fell apart when the jury rejected it as a pack of lies

In his month long trial which has ended with his conviction for the murder of nine-year-old schoolgirl Charlise Mutten, Justin Stein was the most mild-mannered of liars.

Most of the time. The mask did slip once, but as an accused killer desperate not to face possibly the next 30 years of his life in jail, Stein was cool and calm under the pressure.

Even the lengthy grilling by prosecutors about his different, conflicting stories and his tale, that it was Charlise’s mother Kallista who pulled the trigger, didn’t seem to faze him.

He didn’t get angry under cross-examination, even as he was accused of telling lies, and admitted telling lies, placidly repeating ‘I did not kill Charlise’.

It was only in voicemail messages Stein had left for Kallista Mutten, that a different, more sinister Justin Stein emerged.

Eight voicemail messages left by Stein for Kallista on the morning of January 13, 2022 – by which time Charlise was dead, but Ms Mutten was still unaware –  were played in court.

Kallista Mutten had stolen Stein’s prized red Holden Colorado ute, and driven it from the Stein family’s Wildenstein property at Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains.  

Justin Stein claimed that Kallista Mutten (left) killed Charlise (right) but the jury rejected his account of events. Pictured are mother and daughter at Christmas 2021

Justine Stein has been found guilty of killing schoolgirl Charlise Mutten

Justine Stein has been found guilty of killing schoolgirl Charlise Mutten

An angry Stein was threatening Ms Mutten that if she did not bring back his car, ‘I am going to f***ing hurt you as well as everyone else.

‘And I’ll tell the police that you’re the one who took your daughter,’ Stein shouted, demanding again and again that Kallista answer his call.

In one particular message, the menace in his voice was unmistakeable as he raged, ‘Guess what? The other car just started, c***, and I’ve got my f***ing guns, and I’m going to f***ing kill you now.

‘You’ve f***ed me over for the last time. It was f***ing you doing this to Charlise to f*** me wasn’t it? I’m going to kill you.’

Charlise's body was found inside this barrel wedged between two trees on the banks of the Colo River in January 2021

Charlise’s body was found inside this barrel wedged between two trees on the banks of the Colo River in January 2021

Stein told his then-fiancée police were on their way to investigate the car’s theft and ‘you’re going down, dog’ and it was her ‘last chance’.

The calls were a window for the jury into the possible reality of what truly happened the night Charlise Mutten was shot dead in the face, between 7.16pm on January 11 and 10.06am on January 12, 2022.

As they were played, Stein sat passively in the court and then answered questions.

He managed to bat back seven consecutive suggestions by crown prosecutor Ken McKay SC that his actions, lies or stories resulted from having to cover up the fact he had shot and killed Charlise Mutten.   

This may have been the prosecution’s defining moment, its unravelling of Stein’s case, his contention that it was Kallista who pulled the trigger on her own daughter.

 It came in re-examination by the prosecution, the absolute end of Stein’s cross-examination.

It was delivered machine-gun style by Mr McKay: ‘you shot and killed Charlise Mutten … you told Kallista Charlise had been left with a woman because you know you had killed Charlise … you pretended to look for Charlise to cover up … you needed time to dispose of the body … you deleted texts to cover up … you lied to police because you killed Charlise … you buried the murder weapon … you asked your mother to retrieveit?’

Stein answered ‘no’ to six questions and ‘No, I never killed Charlise’ to a seventh. But Mr McKay had just about dismantled his case, which was at its best, an unlikely one.

Charlise Mutten, a student at Tweed Heads Public School, lived in Coolangatta with her maternal grandparents, Clinton and Deborah Mutten.

After an earlier planned trip at Easter 2021 was cancelled due to Kallista Mutten’s psychotic episodes while injecting methamphetamines, Charlise came down for Christmas.

She flew to Sydney on December 21, 2021, spent Christmas Day at Stein’s mother Annemie’s Sydney house and then divided her time between Wildenstein and the Steins’ cabin at Riviera Ski Gardens, Lower Portland.

The last photo ever taken of Charlise Mutten alive, captured at 6.20pm on January 10, 2022, a day before her murder by her 'stepdad' Justin Stein

The last photo ever taken of Charlise Mutten alive, captured at 6.20pm on January 10, 2022, a day before her murder by her ‘stepdad’ Justin Stein 

She was due to fly back to Queensland on January 18, 2022, the same day police found her body in a barrel wedged between trees on a bank of the Colo River, 60km from Wildenstein.

Charlise was upside down in a foetal position in the barrel, wrapped in bags and bound with tape. She had two gunshot wounds, one to her back, and a fatal one to her face.

The night Charlise was found, Justin Stein was charged with her murder. He had given two police interviews in previous days, telling different stories to detectives.

Neither story involved him accusing Kallista Mutten of killing Charlise, but this was the tale he had crafted in the two plus years he waited in prison before his trial.

With his murder trial set down for May 2024, Stein and his counsel must have decided his best chance of acquittal was to testify.

Most accused murderers don’t enter the witness box because of the perils of withering under the prosecution’s questioning, coming across as furtive or a liar, their guilt clearly exposed.

But in the case of Charlise’s murder there was no stand-out motive for Justin, although he was questioned on the stand about the little girl being alone with him, sharing his bed once she became ill, and the fact she had been placed in a barrel dressed, but without underwear.

Justin Stein (above) in his second police interview when Charlise was just 'missing' before his phone led them to the location of where he had dumped the little girl's body

Justin Stein (above) in his second police interview when Charlise was just ‘missing’ before his phone led them to the location of where he had dumped the little girl’s body

Forensic examiners found Quetiapine in Charlise’s system, the same drug marketed as Seroquel which Stein took for his schizophrenia.

In the girl’s mother Kallista, the defence had its best chance of apportioning blame to a person with no gold stars for motherhood.

Kallista Mutten was a methamphetamine addict who had already killed one person, her friend Karen ‘Kaz’ Bunch who died when Kallista – high on ice – crashed her car into a river in northern NSW in 2016.

She went to jail for two years, phoning Charlise from prison, but destroying a closer relationship with the then seven-year-old by getting back on ice after her release.

Kallista had already met Stein, in a fleeting encounter in the visits room at the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, Kempsey, when he was serving time for trafficking drugs.

Stein testified at his trial about Kallista’s colossal ice taking, his account bolstered by hospital records which said she was chaotic and violent, at least towards herself, while taking a whopping 17 points of the drug daily.

The accused decided to fashion a story about Kallista shooting Charlise – the motive drug-addled jealousy – but failed to nail down the details.

Stein had the massive problem that he could not refute the fact that he was on CCTV driving around the barrel concealing Charlise’s body, and that his phone co-ordinates led police to the dumping site. 

The .22 rifle that police said Justin shot Charlise with, then hid it with ammunition and a scope in the bush up at Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains

The .22 rifle that police said Justin shot Charlise with, then hid it with ammunition and a scope in the bush up at Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains

Under questioning by his defence counsel, Carolyn Davenport SC, Mr Stein wept in the witness box as he gave his account of Charlise’s final moments.

Stein told the jury that Ms Mutten shot her daughter in the face and back before screaming at him: ‘You made me do this.’

He said he had been out in a shed on Wildenstein tinkering with an old car on the evening of January 12, 2022 when he heard a shot ring out and Charlise scream his name ‘Justin’ then cry out ‘Mummy, no’ before a second shot was fired.

‘I walked up to the fence. That’s when I saw Charlise on the ground. (Ms Mutten) had a rifle in her hand,’ he told the court.

Charlise was lying on the ground. 

‘I said, ‘What the f*** have you done?’ and she started screaming ‘You did this’. She kept screaming ‘You did this’ she then screamed ‘You made me do this’.

‘She screamed at me to get a tarp. I said, ‘No’. She then lifted up the rifle as if to shoot. I put up both hands.’

Charlise looked happy on her last Christmas Day, celebrated at her killer's mother's Sydney house just weeks before the nine-year-old would be shot dead by Justin Stein

Charlise looked happy on her last Christmas Day, celebrated at her killer’s mother’s Sydney house just weeks before the nine-year-old would be shot dead by Justin Stein

If Stein’s story began half plausible, it was leaning towards farcical and then went even further down that way when he claimed he went in the shed for ten minutes, then changed that to five minutes.

When he came out, he said, Kallista and Charlise were both gone – a point drily noted by the prosecution that a woman had whipped away her 33.5kg daughter’s body and vanished without trace.

Stein’s tears in court earned him some derision under Mr McKay, who suggested that his tears shed in one of his police interviews, in which he now admitted to lying, could be similar to his court performance – crying while lying.

One unbelievable part of this story was that not only had Kallista taken off with Charlise, she had apparently cut a square of bloodied ground and taken that with her.

This was an unnecessarily invented narrative to explain why bloodied grass and dirt was found with Charlise in the barrel.

But Stein overstepped on the barrel story too. Instead of possibly claiming he had a pact with Kallista to dispose of the body, he attested she had secretly placed the body in the barrel.

Justin Stein's ute with Charlise in a barrel on the back tows a boat which police say he intended to use to dispose of Charlise at sea

Justin Stein’s ute with Charlise in a barrel on the back tows a boat which police say he intended to use to dispose of Charlise at sea

He said she had lifted the child up in the barrel, lashed the barrel to the ute with special ties, and put the tarpaulin securely over the top.

It was an elaborate story, and in the dying minutes of his cross -examination, one that was unravelling.

The jury took more than 35 hours over eight days spread across three weeks to reach its verdict.

Jurors asked for the transcripts of the testimonies of eight witnesses – Justin Stein, Kallista Mutten, Annemie Stein, the chief cop, two of Annemie’s staff and two medical examiners.

Coming into the court day after day as the jury was sent home during deliberations, Stein was starting to look listless – as any person contemplating their fate might be.

But on the morning of the ninth day, Wednesday June 19, the wait was over.

At 10.15 the jury foreman rose and uttered the verdict: ‘Guilty’. Twelve men and women did not believe his pack of lies. 

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