Emotions overflow at Russo hearing

May 31, 2018

Angelo Russo before an earlier court appearance.

David Calandro died after the shooting on February 18 last year.

The scene at Tatura last year

The penultimate chapter of a fatal shooting was played out in an emotional Supreme Court hearing in Melbourne yesterday, as Judge Michael Croucher heard pleas prior to the sentencing of Angelo Russo, a farmer and vegetable grower.

Russo, 55, last week pleaded guilty to manslaughter following the shooting death of David Calandro, who had been sitting in his utility vehicle at Russo’s Tatura farm on February 18 last year.

Judge Croucher heard victim impact statements prepared by the two sons of Mr Calandro, who were 12 and nine years of age when seated in the vehicle beside their father.

Mr Calandro was hit at close range through a window, causing injury and resulting in his death in Royal Melbourne Hospital the following day.

Nic Papas, QC, told the judge that the older son, now 14, had visited the court room on Tuesday, but did not feel he could read his statement aloud.

Mr Papas read the statement on his behalf, referring to the boy’s regret that his father would never be seen again, never come to watch his footy, and that his loss meant he struggled to sleep at night.

He spoke of his distress that his father cannot be with him in future when he completes Year 12, goes to university, and turns 21.

The experienced Mr Papas had to pause to compose himself several times, becoming emotionally upset as he read the boy’s words.

On behalf of Mr Calandro’s younger son, now 11, Detective Senior Constable Robert Brain read the boy’s statement of deeply personal explanations of his sadness at the loss of his dad in the traumatic shooting.

The detective’s voice also quivered as he read the statement to the hushed court room.

A statement from Mr Calandro’s widow, Virginia, was also read to the court, together with a further 13 statements handed to the judge or read to the hearing by other family members and friends.

On behalf of Russo, Patrick Tehan, QC, handed up a file of eight character references, attesting to Russo’s good character and community support of soccer clubs at Tatura and Shepparton, and other causes.

Mr Tehan expressed on behalf of Russo, the accused man’s ‘‘deepest sorrow’’ at the great pain and suffering caused to the Calandro family, and to the two sons in particular.

He informed the court that Russo had no prior convictions and he sought a discounted sentence for the obvious remorse displayed throughout the period since the tragedy.

Judge Croucher informed the court that he had examined the shotgun used in the shooting, viewing in particular the response when the safety catch was switched on and off, and whether the weapon always responded to that device.

A murder trial in the same court ended abruptly on Friday when the prosecution agreed to withdraw a charge of murder, and Russo pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The trial had heard that the shooting followed a vehicle incident involving Russo’s dog.

The shooting incident was said to have been associated with a stumble on an eggplant in the yard of the farm property; the judge on Friday accepted that attempting to prove a murder charge was not appropriate.

The hearing is to assist the judge to weigh up the pleas of both parties, and to assess the degree of criminal negligence associated with the manslaughter case.

Members of both the Calandro and Russo families were in court throughout the day.

The plea hearing is unfinished, set to resume in the court today.

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