DADDY'S GIRL: The question that haunted Sarah

 

FOR almost two weeks, Borce Ristevski dressed in the same black suit - black shoes, white shirt, no tie - and offered the same stiff expression from the dock.

His feet were crossed and he was slumped ever-so-slightly in his chair, staring forward instead of around the courtroom filled with journalists and curious members of the public.

Little moved him.

Not evidence from police who claimed he murdered his wife, bundled her into the boot of a Mercedes Benz roadster and drove around looking for "somewhere to dump the body".

Not details from a forensic pathologist about the state of his wife's decomposed, shoeless corpse.

Not the accusation that he lied to family and to police to "cover his tracks", not only in the immediate aftermath of his wife's disappearance but over the next two years.

But one moment broke him. When his daughter Sarah walked into the Melbourne Magistrates' Court and offered a story about her parents, he wiped away tears.

Karen's husband Borce Ristevski and daughter Sarah at a press conference after her disappearance. Picture: Eugene Hyland
Karen's husband Borce Ristevski and daughter Sarah at a press conference after her disappearance. Picture: Eugene Hyland

Sarah, 22, talked about how Mr Ristevski would head to the shops when his wife, Karen, forgot to collect the milk. He'd return with a box of Arnotts Shapes and Karen would fire up.

"She'd say to him, 'What have you done? You've gone and got all this stuff' … 'I'll eat it and my thighs will get fat'."

Sarah would go on to talk about how her father was "a calming influence … always the calm one, calming her down".

The connection between the two is obvious and genuine. She believes him and her support has never wavered.

She is combative on his behalf. She despises the way he is being treated by police and by the media, with good reason.

She stood by his side at a press conference shortly after Karen went missing and cried as a Channel 7 reporter asked, boorishly, "Did you kill Karen, Borce?"

She had her home "stalked" by the press in July and August, 2016, when she was struggling to come to grips with the loss of her mum.

In giving her evidence, she told the media present in the courtroom "thanks for that".

Sarah Ristevski was brought to tears by a question from a reporter. Picture: Sarah Matray
Sarah Ristevski was brought to tears by a question from a reporter. Picture: Sarah Matray

In a text to missing persons squad Detective Timothy Ryan in 2016, she wrote: "I'm so disgusted about what was written in The Australian today. I actually hate the media. Legit. They don't know what they're talking about."

The story Sarah tells about her father is nothing like that told by prosecutors, who say Mr Ristevski murdered his wife on June 29, 2016 and dumped her body between two logs at Mount Macedon, in Melbourne's north, where it was found eight months later.

But on Thursday - the final day of evidence at a two-week committal hearing before magistrate Suzanne Cameron - the court heard how questions the media were asking haunted Sarah Ristevski in the weeks after her father became a suspect.

In a recorded conversation between Sarah and Borce Ristevski obtained by a listening device at the Ristevski home, the 22-year-old is clearly confused.

She asks her father about his whereabouts on the day Karen disappeared and specifically about why he turned his phone off for two hours.

Mr Ristevski's phone was switched off as he drove the body past Diggers Rest to Mount Macedon, police allege.

Karen, Borce and Sarah Ristevski.
Karen, Borce and Sarah Ristevski.

"You know what I want to know?" she said. "You're out of the house for two hours, your telephone is off for two hours. You were driving and you turned your telephone off. They pinged you on the Calder (Freeway). So you were driving?"

Mr Ristevski told her: "That's what (police) are trying to plant out there, Sarah."

"That doesn't make sense," she said.

"Nothing makes sense," Mr Ristevski said

Sarah Ristevski doesn't get the benefit of listening to all the evidence at court. During the committal hearing and if the case against her father goes to trial, she'll likely be called as a witness again.

That means she'll be prohibited from entering the court until after she has taken the stand. There is nothing stopping her from talking to her father, but her only other access to information in open court is via the press.

Magistrate Cameron has adjourned the committal hearing in order to consider her decision.

He must decide whether the evidence against Mr Ristevski is enough to commit him to stand trial on a murder charge, enough to commit him to stand trial on a manslaughter charge or not enough to commit him at all.

Sarah Ristevski is seen leaving Melbourne Magistrates Court after giving evidence. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AAP
Sarah Ristevski is seen leaving Melbourne Magistrates Court after giving evidence. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AAP

Lawyers for Mr Ristevski have asked her to consider the lesser charge.

David Hallowes SC conceded this week there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on a manslaughter charge, but was quick to clarify that "in no way is that a confession from Mr Ristevski or me that he was involved in any way in the killing of his wife".

"On the evidence as a whole, it would not be reasonably open for a jury to infer that, if they found Mr Ristevski had killed his wife, that he intended to kill her or cause her really serious injury," Mr Hallowes said.

"There was no evidence of violence in the relationship or any threat of violence.

"There was no financial benefit to be gained by the accused from the death of his wife.

"There was no financial incentive whatsoever … no evidence suggesting any life insurance policies.

"The cause of death is unascertained. The evidence simply doesn't assist in any way in terms of establishing how death was caused."

Sarah Ristevski wipes away tears as she’s comforted by her father, Borce. Picture: Sarah Matray
Sarah Ristevski wipes away tears as she’s comforted by her father, Borce. Picture: Sarah Matray

Crown prosecutor Matt Fisher argued the alleged actions of the accused after his wife went missing were calculated and considered and callous.

"Firstly, the accused man places her into the boot of her own car which is concealed inside the garage of her own house," Mr Fisher said.

Borce Ristevski is accused of murdering his wife and dumping her body in bushland.
Borce Ristevski is accused of murdering his wife and dumping her body in bushland.

"Secondly, he leaves that house in that car within a short time of killing her or causing really serious injury.

"He's then driving that car many kilometres to dispose of the body.

"He's looking for somewhere to dispose of the body. After some driving, he ends up on a dirt track, away from buildings, businesses, houses, people. It's isolated.

"He takes the deceased from the car, places her between two fallen tree trunks and further conceals her body with things from the bush. The crown says it was thorough and required great effort.

"For those eight months, the crown says the accused denies any involvement at all and that he lies about some aspects of this case.

"He knew full well because of what he'd done. He says to police he never left the home - that he stayed at home and did book work. Another time he says his phone was on all day, never off.

"He then calls, on a number of occasions, the deceased.

"In the context of this case, the only reason he made those calls was to cover his tracks. There's no report to police until the next day at the urging of his daughter, Sarah Ristevski."

The magistrate is expected to return to court with her decision on Thursday.


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