THE interior of the 125 year old Bairnsdale Courthouse, with its exposed lattice of timber trusses, stretching high up into the void above, resembles the inside of a church.
But that’s where the analogy ends.
There was nothing spiritual or uplifting about the proceedings there in Court 1 last Thursday afternoon when the man charged with the murder of Phillip Island mother of three, Samantha Fraser, appeared in public for the first time since her violent death on Monday, July 23.
Quite the opposite in fact.
Her estranged husband, Adrian James Basham 41 of Paynesville, and also of San Remo, had been arrested in the morning, interviewed by police and ultimately charged with one count of murder prior to arriving at the court around lunchtime.
He was driven right up to the back door of the courthouse in the rear compartment of a white VW divisional van.
Handcuffed, he put his head down as he was escorted inside with the closeness of the van to the court’s door and surrounding police making it difficult for the hovering media pack to get pictures or video footage.
Security officers with hand-held wands scanned reporters as they hurried inside, reminding them to leave their cameras outside.
It was shortly after 2pm that Basham was brought into court wearing a charcoal grey jacket, light coloured shirt and dark green trousers. Fit-looking with short, dark, curly hair on top, close-cut greying sides and clean shaven, he would not have stood out in the crowd at a country football match.
He looked around in the courtroom from time to time, showing no emotion throughout, a police officer standing nearby.
Two local police prosecutors were seated at the bar table, court clerks were in position and about 15 people sat in the ‘pews’, most of them reporters from various media outlets; the Age, Herald-Sun, Australian and all of the TV stations.
Information already published by those media outlets in the 10 days since the murder in Seagrove Way, Cowes, and also public chatter via social media, from as far away as Queensland, were central to the proceedings that followed.
It wasn’t until Magistrate Lou Hill was beamed into the court via video link from the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court that the hearing got underway.
Mr Hill is familiar with the lay of the land in the Bass Coast area, having been a regular in recent years on the bench at both Wonthaggi and Korumburra magistrates’ courts.
He soon remanded Mr Basham in custody to appear at a committal mention hearing at Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court, in relation to the murder charges, on Thursday, January 10; 161 days from now.
Other matters to be decided included an application by Mr Basham’s lawyer, John Sutton and his legal team, for the suppression of all information pertaining to the murder trial and earlier proceedings against the accused, alleging previous assaults.
Mr Basham was to have appeared in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court last Monday, July 30, to face those charges which police believe may have been a motive for what transpired a week earlier.
Those matters have now been listed for November 1, 2018.
Police were also making an application, under 464T of the Crimes Act to collect a DNA sample from Mr Basham after he had declined to provide one voluntarily when interviewed for the first time on Thursday, July 26 at the City West Police Complex. The application was further opposed at Bairnsdale by the accused man’s lawyer.
There were initial problems with the magistrates’ audio until he realised his microphone wasn’t switched on, prompting an involuntary laugh from Mr Hill for which he admonished himself: “It’s far too serious for that.”
The police prosecutor called the informant in the case, Detective Senior Constable Luke Farrell of the Homicide Squad, to provide evidence about why the court should order the compulsory collection of a DNA sample on the grounds that “the person is a relevant suspect”.
Mr Sutton objected, not only pointing out that police had drafted their application under the wrong section of the Act but also for providing him with scant details in “what purports to be a brief of evidence”.
“I have a real concern. The press appears to be in possession of more information than the defence. I found out about this by listening to the radio,” said Mr Sutton.
He claimed the only things known about his client were that he was questioned and released, while two “extremely grainy” pictures had since been released.
“The defence is at a significant disadvantage,” he said.
Det S/C Farrell provided a brief summary of the circumstances leading up to the discovery of Ms Fraser’s body in the garage of her Seagrove Way home, indicating why police believed Basham was a “relevant suspect”.
“A mobile phone used by the accused man and registered in a false name provided geo-location data which put him in Cowes on that day,” Mr Farrell said.
“A motorcycle similar to the one owned by the accused man was captured by CCTV being ridden into Cowes between 7am-8am on the 23rd of July… shortly after 12pm on the same day, the same motorbike was pictured leaving Cowes headed for San Remo.
“Information from witnesses in San Remo put the accused in that location on July 22 and he made arrangements with friends to go for a motorcycle ride on the morning of July 23 which he failed to keep.”
He also said a local person had made a statement to police that the accused man was without any facial injury when he met him on Sunday evening, July 22, but when he arrived at the pre-arranged interview at the Melbourne West police station on July 26, “he presented with a scratch on his nose”. Police will try to link the DNA from the scratch to the deceased woman.
Further, he said fingernail scrapings taken from the accused man provided a single-source male DNA profile said to be the same as the DNA profile discovered on items collected from the scene and also on the deceased woman’s person.
“The application is granted,” said Mr Hill. “I find the person is a relevant suspect and there is reasonable grounds to believe he committed the offence.”
Argument by the defence then centred on the suppression application with Mr Sutton calling the accused man’s lawyer for almost 30 years, Brendan King of Dandenong, to give evidence about the “sensational” mainstream media coverage and social media comment on the incident.
Among other sources of published material, Mr King referred to the “the Red Heart Campaign – giving domestic violence survivors a voice” website where there were various contributed comments including one which said simply: “1 BULLET”.
Another said: “Oh, surprise surprise! He killed her.” Another said: “No use sending this to trial, the media have already convicted him.”
He claimed the coverage in mainstream and social media would not only prejudice his client’s trial but also pose a threat to Mr Basham in prison and his extended family outside.
The magistrate agreed the reporting could be considered sensational but he said the murder of a woman under the circumstances outlined, in a country town was sensational.
He ultimately dismissed the suppression application.
While Mr Hill was deliberating out of the courtroom prior to handing down his rulings, Mr Basham was looking around at the reporters waiting in the rear seats prior to calling one of the police officers over and talking to him. The officer then came across and cautioned the reporters against using their electronic devices to record the court proceedings.