by Mary W Maxwell, PhD, LLB
Every inquest seeks to find the time, place, and manner of death of a person. Regarding the deaths of Tori Johnson and Man Haron Monis, I think it is an established fact that the place of death was the Lindt Café in the Sydney CBD. For Katrina Dawson, death occurred either in the café or in an ambulance on the way to hospital, or at hospital.
The time of death is not contentious; it was between 2am and 3am on December 16, 2014 for all three persons. So we come to the main question: how did they die?
The EA Is Finally Triggered
All the deaths occurred at the very end of the siege. They occurred when there were only a few people left in the café: Monis, Johnson, Dawson, Mikhael, Win Pe, Hope, Hope, and possibly one other hostage.
So it is the events occurring from 2.03 onwards that matter. Recall that there had been an escape at 3.37 on the afternoon of December 15, and another about one hour later. We saw all those 5 people run out of the café in broad daylight.
The last escape occurred at 2.03 (the timing is not contentious) and included 6 or 7 people. It was in the dark. However, they all went out via the firewell, which had a CCTV camera in its ceiling, so we can make out who they were. Also, we saw these hostages for a moment in the streetlight as they emerged from the building.
It seems to be agreed by police and hostages that Monis fired his gun for the first time at 2.03am. Recall that he had been saying since morning that if any escaped he would shoot them or shoot the stay-behinds. Still, when that third batch of persons ran out, Monis fired only over their heads.
The shot hit a glass panel. The importance, for the Inquest, is that this shot put police on alert. Some cops thought just the one shot would be enough to start the Emergency Action. However their commander did not send them in at this point.
Was It Too Late?
At the Inquest much attention was focused on whether police should have stormed the café after just one shot. So for the moment, please formulate an opinion. Never mind the hindsight by which we know that the failure to capture Monis at this point led to the deaths of Tori and Katrina.
Just ask, was it proper to storm the café at that point? Would you have ordered it?
For me I suppose it was proper. Monis had demonstrated a willingness to shoot, even if aimed at the ceiling. As one police witness said “It showed us he had a functioning firearm.” If this was just a gunman on the street I assume police would have shot him down by now.
Note: when Curtis Cheng, an accountant, was shot by a 15-year-old outside the Parramatta Police station in 2015, the boy was killed by police straightaway. No questions asked. (I’ve often wondered why they didn’t just disable him.)
The Bomb in the Backpack
Of course there was the alleged problem of the bomb in Monis’s backpack. A reason to hold back from shooting Monis – it was said throughout that day — was the fear that a bullet received by him could pass through him to his backpack wherein was an “IED” (improvised explosive device), and harm everyone.
This seems to me to be disingenuous. Even apart from my belief that Monis was working for “the authorities” all along, (and therefore they knew there was no bomb), we see Chanel 7 people hovering across the street with cameras. They shouldn’t have risked being so close, should they?
Officer A, who admits to killing Monis said, under oath, that when he stormed the café, he believed his life was at risk. In Part 14, I quoted him:
“Did you see him fall?” Yes, at first I thought he was falling to a kneeling position but I checked and saw that he was dead. A large piece of his head was missing.
“Did you worry about your bullet causing the backpack bomb to explode?” When we initiated the EA, I was 100% certain he had a bomb. But I believed the bullets I fired at him would stay within his body.”
I expected the lawyers to quiz him as to why he felt confident about that, but they didn’t.
The Pause Before the Storming
So it’s 2.03am and a decision has to be made. The decision is “Do nothing.” Then the police say they heard a second shot at around 2.06. Some said it was a door slamming, or a table being thrown over but some said it was a gunshot. I do not know the final interpretation of that shot. But it, too, did not trigger an EA.
By the way, this coronial inquest is not like a trial at which a verdict is brought in and that settles the matter. Magistrate Michael Barnes now has to hunker down with volumes of material and reach the best conclusion he can, even if from contradictory material.
In any case, the period between Monis’ first firing at 2.03am, and 2.15am when the police teams stormed in, is the period in which Tori Johnson died.
I now move to my “findings” of two of the deaths under investigation at this inquest – those of Tori Johnson and Man Haron Monis – and will speculate on the death of Ms Dawson in a later article.
Conclusions Reached re Mr Monis’ Death
We heard testimony by three police officers who stormed the Café: “Dennis Albrecht” (head of team “Tango Charlie”), the shield bearer whom I called Shieldie (a man of colorful language), and Officer A.
I believe the manner of death of Man Haron Monis was, as claimed, that “Officer A” shot him upon entry to the Café, and that it occurred at the officially claimed time: around 2.15am.
Officer A sounded to me like he was telling it honestly. Also, there was a video taken of this cop’s back, from across the street, which verifies his story (if you trust the chain of custody of the video!).
Although we did not see autopsy pictures of Monis, I go along with the statements of Dennis Albrecht and Officer A that much of Monis’ head was blown away. I think Louisa Hope reported seeing it, too.
I go along with Officer A’s narrative that he trained the red laser of his gun on Monis’ chest, shot him, and then moved it up to his head and shot again.
One thing I don’t understand is why Monis didn’t buckle over as soon as he was wounded in the chest. I also didn’t quite believe Officer A when he said he thinks Monis shot him — because he “flinched.” Maybe the cop’s bulletproof vest would have that effect; I don’t know.
My doubt is based on the fact that for Monis to have carried out that shot, he would have been looking at Officer A in darkness. Monis, on the other hand, was “well-lit” by the light attached to Officer A’s gun.
If Monis at such a tense moment could have actually aimed properly at Officer A (when a huge amount of noise was happening from flash bangs), well, I give him credit!
In any case, for what it’s worth, I accept the official story of how Monis died.
Conclusion Reached re Mr Johnson’s Death
A better title for this section would be “Conclusion Not Reached re Mr Johnson’s Death.
As to who killed Tori, the leading candidate is Monis. As far as I know the Inquest (early on) never fully opened the question, other than pro forma. A couple of witnesses said they saw Monis kill Tori, and that was that.
It was certainly in the newspaper within a day that Tori was “executed” by Monis.
So why do I have any hesitations?
Firstly I need to do more digging as to the reports that Tori was told to get on his knees.
During my Port Arthur research I kept reading that Nanette Mikac was told to get down on her knees before being shot by the mad gunman (alleged to be Martin Bryant). People relay that as if it were a fact.
Yet, as I proceeded, I never found any record of a witness saying that. I think it was thrown in by the media for emotive effect.
However, in the current case, there is a video taken through the café window by a sniper in the Westpac building. It shows a man (Monis, apparently) putting a gun to the back of the head of another man (Tori, apparently). That video is available on the Internet. The two men are silhouetted.
I have also read that a sniper saw Tori fall, but I did not get any particulars about that in the courtroom and so far have not seen the sniper’s video of that (if there be one).
Secondly, I don’t see why Monis would do it. He was clearly a failure at that point. The government had ignored him (even refusing his demand to dim the lights in Martin Place) and, by now, 11 or 12 of his 18 hostages had escaped.
Recall that I see Monis as working for, not against, government. Maybe at this point he realized he had been had?
(We know that in the Boston Marathon case, Tamerlan Tsarnaev got a rude awakening when he was arrested in Watertown by the FBI. He yelled “Podstava” – Russian for “This is a set-up.”)
Why Would Monis Kill Tori Johnson?
Anyway Monis had to have been fatigued, and it was dark.
I keep asking: what did he have to gain by snuffing out Tori’s life? I try putting myself in Monis’ shoes. He thinks:
“I’ll be accused of the crime of holding hostages and threatening them, but so far I have not hurt anyone. Heck, I even let them eat food, wander around, and message their families. I may be able to plead for my life. So I shouldn’t now bring down the full weight of the law against me by killing Tori.”
I don’t rule out that Monis killed Tori. It’s the best offer we have so far. And I also am aware that there are plenty of Manchurian candidates around –maybe Monis was one.
An early report in the Sydney Morning Herald, online, quoted Monis as saying, after killing Tori “Look what you made me do.” I don’t know if it’s true or what it means. But probably we shouldn’t just ignore it.
For lack of any other plausible explanation – so far – I will agree that the official story of the death of Tori Johnson is correct: he was shot in the head at close range by Monis.
The Ball’s in Our Court
Commenters at Gumshoe, to earlier article in this series, have said that the police’s ballistics expert should have been challenged by an expert hired by the families. This did not happen.
I lack information on what Mr Johnson’s autopsy indicated as to the type of firearm that brought about his death. Was it Monis’ shotgun, that fires lead pellets, or a police gun that fires copper bullets, or something else?
We members of the public are entitled to know these things. This was, remember, “the day that changed Australia forever.”
The purpose of the Inquest is not to give the Murdoch press a chance to recommend that the army be used instead of the police. Nor was the Inquest undertaken primarily to help the families of the deceased.
Remember: we are running the show.
— Mary Maxwell’s discussion of the death of Katrina Dawson will appear soon.
Photo credit: P. Newman