The upcoming sentencing of an elderly farmer who shot a young woman multiple times during a frightening late-night home invasion will show just how far residents can go in defending their property.
Abdul Elraoui, 71, fired an unregistered semi-automatic rifle at Hannah Meharry, then 21, after she and two friends used bolt-cutters to break into his rural property at Mincha in northern Victoria at 3am on June 11, 2019.
Ms Meharry survived the ordeal after an operation to remove bullet fragments from her arm and back while Mr Elraoui – who on Wednesday pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury and reckless conduct endangering life – awaits sentencing.
The shooting has drawn comparisons to the case of bodybuilder Aaron Soper who died during an altercation with a homeowner in Sydney in 2019, and that of Ricky Slater who died in hospital a day after fighting with a man whose house he was robbing in Newcastle in 2016.
Abdul Elraoui’s property is on Mincha-Canary Island Rd in Victoria, north-west of Melbourne
Joseph Palamara, who works as a criminal law associate at national firm Armstrong Legal, told Daily Mail Australia that self-defence is enshrined in the Crimes Act in Section 418(1) in NSW, and Section 322K in Victoria.
‘To argue self-defence, the person genuinely has to believe they were in immediate danger at the time’ he said.
‘It doesn’t matter if that belief was mistaken, they have to believe their conduct was necessary in the moment.’
In the Mincha incident, Ms Meharry and two young men broke into the home of Mr Elraoui, who told police his isolated property had been targeted by thieves several times in the preceding months. He lived alone on the property.
Mr Elraoui fired shots toward the light of Ms Meharry’s phone and hit her in the arm and back, causing her to scream in pain, drop her phone and run back to the group’s car.
Mr Schwartz (pictured with his wife and daughter) was questioned by police, but was released without charge
Pictured: Brad Soper pictured with ex-girlfriend Kaisha Gambell before he died during a home invasion
Elraoui told police he followed a trail of blood towards the car and fired more shots as it sped away.
The would-be thieves crashed their car in attempting to flee, and Ms Meharry ran to a neighbour’s property for help and collapsed. The neighbour then drove the injured trio to hospital.
Mr Palamara explained that if an attacker retreats or leaves the situation, the immediate threat has passed.
‘If the accused continues with the defence, it’s not a reasonable response anymore.’
Mr Elraoui’s barrister Cameron Marshall said his client had found life difficult in Australia after leaving Lebanon during the civil war.
The 71-year-old had become ‘estranged’ from society following a divorce and had also developed anxiety problems after he was robbed several times.
‘He is a deeply apprehensive and fearful man – it manifests with significant anxiety and agitation,’ Mr Marshall told Victoria’s County Court.
In a similar situation in February of 2019 – four months before the incident in Mincha – Johann Schwartz, then 44, woke to the sound of his dogs barking.
He found bodybuilder Brad Soper, 35, in the lounge room of his Harrington Park home in Sydney’s south-west.
Soper’s father said he was at a loss to explain why his son broke into Mr Schwartz’s family home and ransacked it
Soper and Ms Gambell, a lawyer (pictured), lived together up until they split
The South African-born office worker tackled the intruder – once crowned Asia’s Strongest Man – to the ground and they fought before Soper collapsed and died.
Mr Schwartz spent ten hours being interviewed by police before he was released.
Mr Schwartz battled post-traumatic stress syndrome afterwards and still remains haunted by his actions in the heat of the moment but says he acted on instinct amid fears for the safety of his wife and young child.
He later admitted he could have handled the situation better by calling police or activating the house alarm rather than confronting Soper.
In 2016, Ben Batterham, 35, found Ricky Slater, 34, lurking in his infant daughter’s bedroom at his Newcastle home in before he chased him outside, put him in a chokehold and punched him until police arrived.
Slater was carrying a shoulder bag containing three knives, marijuana, and methamphetamine, and had stolen things of value to Mr Batterham including his partner’s purse and his daughter’s headband before running off.
His partner and daughter were not home at the time of the attack.
The court heard during the trial that neighbours tried to get Mr Batterham to let Slater go, but he refused and told the burglar he would kill him.
Monique Batterham told her husband: ‘I don’t think it’s your fault that we had to go through it, at all’
Benjamin Batterham (centre) leaving the Newcastle Supreme Court with his wife and barrister after the jury found him not guilty of murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter
How far can you go to protect your turf?
Joseph Palamara from Armstrong Legal explains:
– Take whatever steps are possible to reduce the threat without using violence.
– Call triple-0 and hide to escape the situation.
– Force should only be in situations if yours or someone else’s life is in immediate threat.
– If you have to use force, only do it to the point where it’s reasonable in the circumstance. If someone has a weapon, the response might be different to someone who is not armed during the situation.
Multiple witnesses testified that Slater was telling Batterham ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ during the struggle.
Batterham was found not guilty of the murder and manslaughter of Slater, who died in hospital a day after the struggle.
He 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.’
The chef later told 60 Minutes he was was ‘very upset’ when he found Slater in his home.
‘It’s my castle, people should always defend their homes,’ he said.
Mr Batterham spent two months in prison before being granted bail, while a petition to free him amassed tens of thousands of signatures.
‘I’ve gone from the victim to the criminal. It was a nightmare,’ he said.
Defence lawyers insisted throughout the trial that Mr Batterham never intended to kill Mr Slater or cause him serious harm.
In December 2019, Mr Batterham was given compensation for money spent on his defence – believed to be about $1million.
Mr Palamara said the best advice for someone who has seen a crime or feels threatened is to escape the situation without violence and contact police.
‘The use of force should only be in situations if yours or someone else’s life is in immediate threat,’ he said.
Ricky Slater lost consciousness during a struggle following the home invasion
Forensic toxicologists argued Slater (pictured) suffered a heart attack due to the high level of meth in his system and his existing heart condition, but other experts said the tests were inconclusive
While Mr Batterham and Mr Schwartz walked free after successfully arguing self-defence, Mr Palamara said Mr Elraoui’s case could result in jail time or a community corrections because he pursued his attackers after they retreated.
‘There are two main factors (in sentencing) – deterring the offender from committing offences like this in the future, and deterring the community from committing offences like that in the future.’
‘The courts will want to send a message.’
Following the incident, Mr Elraoui called his son to say he fired shots at suspected thieves, before he turned himself in to police.
A subsequent search of his home revealed the unregistered rifle and more than 100 bullets – despite losing his firearms licence in 2018 for failing to secure a gun properly.
Ms Meharry faces trespassing charges and will appear at Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Monday.