Constable Keith Abbott turned from the jury and wiped away tears while giving evidence in his defence on charges of murder in the High Court in Wellington this morning.
Defence counsel Susan Hughes, “Since you shot Steven Wallace have you thought about it?”
“Not a day goes by without me thinking of that night,” Constable Abbott replied, clearly distressed. He turned to his left away from the jury to wipe his eyes.
“What would you do differently?” Hughes continued.
“I have considered all the ifs. And I still believe I took the only option available to me.”
This morning on the eighth day of the trial of Constable Abbott for the murder of Steven Wallace in April 2000, the defence opened its case.
At 10.40am the accused constable took to the witness stand for the first time since the shooting incident in Waitara in early 2000.
Constable Abbott explained in detail his movements on the night in question. A full report of today's evidence and cross-examination will follow this evening. For now what follows is a report of Constable Abbott's evidence of what happened in the crucial 60 seconds before the shooting.
Constable Abbott said he and Constable Dombroski arrived on the scene in McLean Street Waitara and parked their car around 20 meters from Wallace.
At the time Abbott thought that Abbott was someone who lived three doors down from his house, and who he thought he had a "rapport" with, David Toa.
Constable Dombroski drew his weapon first and pointed it at Wallace, Abbott said Dombroski called out “stop, armed police!”. Wallace continued to advance towards Dombroski.
“I had my PR 24 batton in a concealed grip at my side. I said, ‘David, David. What’s going on? What are you doing?’
“He said to me, ‘you’ve been after me for years. I’m sick of it. You’ve pushed me too far.’
“I kept saying, ‘David, David it’s Keith, Keith Abbott can’t we talk?’
“And he changed his focus and came towards me….. He was very angry. I could not believe he was acting like this.”
Abbott said that Wallace then advanced towards him and he walked backwards down McLean Street trying to keep his distance. Wallace was at this stage carrying a golf club in one arm and a baseball bat in the other. He threw the golf-club at Abbott and missed.
Abbott then put his baton in his belt behind his back and took out his glock pistol. He cocked it loudly.
“I said, ‘David, I’m armed drop your weapons’ over and over again. He kept advancing towards me. He had his baseball bat up over his shoulder. He was saying he was going to mess me up, I don’t remember the exact words.”
By now the gap between Wallace and he had closed to around 10 metres or less and Constable Abbott moved from the center of the road, down which he had been retreating, to the side.
“Why did you stop?” Counsel for the defence asked.
“I knew there were obstacles behind me. I could not take my eyes off Mr Wallace. He was a threat and you can’t take your eyes off a threat. The entire time he kept saying to me words to the effect that he was going to do me serious harm.
“My speaking to him made no difference. I fired a warning shot.” Abbot demonstrated to the court that this shot was fired at around a 45 degree angle into the air.”
Q: “After the warning shot what did you say?”
A: “ I said I would shoot him if he came closer.”
Q: “What did he do?”
A: “He changed his direction. His rage increased ten-fold. “
Q: “What was he endevouring to do?”
A: “I got the impression he was sidling around to block my escape. I recall vividly what he said next. He still had the baseball in what I call the high-ready, spring-loaded position and said, ‘You fucking asshole. If I get you I am going to fucking kill you.’ He said this several times.
Q: “What did you think his intentions were?”
A: “To smash my head in. I then fired three shots in quick succession. I was in fear of my life. I honestly believed he as going to smash my head to pulp. He had the instrument to do this. He as just a few metres from me, four or five metres.”
Q: “And what were you thinking?”
A: “What is this guy on? What will stop him? It might seem strange but I thought maybe a bulldozer would stop him.”