A Writer’s Life: Trial of the Century

I went to court yesterday, to watch the cross-examination of Mr Vijay Singh, the father of three murdered siblings, in what is becoming known as Queensland’s trial of the century. In this one day’s proceedings there was enough salacious detail for an entire John Grisham novel. Or maybe an Ian Walkley novel.

Max Sica, former boyfriend of the eldest daughter Neelma (24 at the time of her death), is on trial for the triple murder. The crown alleges he killed the Singh siblings and dumped them in the spa, returning the next day to “discover” the bodies.

As a father of two girls and a boy, I immediately felt for a father who has had his children murdered, and who was now having to undergo cross-examination of events leading up to their death by defence counsel, while the accused murderer sat at the back of the courtroom.

My sympathies were tested, however, as evidence emerged about Mr Singh’s admitted physical assaults on his wife and daughters, including bashing Neelma with a pool cue for talking with a boy on the phone, that left her so badly injured she could not go to school for several days.

Singh denied further allegations, reported to the Police by the Principal of Sidhi’s school, that he molested his youngest daughter.

This alleged behaviour was in addition to Singh’s admissions about affairs with numerous women, sex with his nephew’s wife, and “swinging” activities with his wife and prostitutes, and others.

At Mr Di Carlo’s prompting, Mr Singh agreed that he had only been violent towards the women in his family, and had never hit his son, Kunal. This despite Singh’s statement that in his culture women were regarded highly.

Other evidence included:

  • An email from Neelma to Max Sica, in which Neelma asked Max Sica to have her father bashed.
  • A recording from Mr Singh’s answering machine in which two man, thought to be Fijian, made threats to rape and kill his wife and daughters in retaliation for Singh destroying their family. Mr Singh said he did not consider the tape message to have been a serious enough threat to inform the police. Not long after, the Singh siblings were murdered.
  • Singh accused Sica of “brainwashing” his wife and children against him. Sica had caused Neelma to lie to Singh about their relationship, he claimed.
  • He claimed that Sica had held Neelma against her will at Bribie Island when she was supposed to be in Dubai.
  • He threatened to hit Sica with a brick. Sica, he claimed, responded with threats of his own.
  • A transcript of a police tape secretly recorded before the murders, revealed a family argument and confrontation between Singh and Sica, said to be one of a number.  Sica called Singh a paedophile after coming over to the house at the request of Sidhi in order to protect the women from Mr Singh’s violence. Defence counsel put it to Singh that he had assaulted his wife and pushed her to the ground. Singh denied doing this and said that his wife was drunk.

Mr Singh had razor sharp recollection of certain events, down to the number of minutes between two telephone calls. But on other details that were reflecting on his own behaviour, he was at times evasive and frequently asked Mr Di Carlo to repeat questions. This was not helped by Di Carlo’s waffling and tendency to ask double- or triple-barrelled questions.

Singh’s evasive and aggressive manner in responding to the defence counsel’s questions, together with his admitted indiscretions and alleged behaviour, did little to provide respect for him as a responsible, caring father.

The family was clearly dysfunctional.

The judge in the case, Justice John Byrne, allowed certain damning evidence to be presented after a long-winded attempt by defence counsel, Mr Sam Di Carlo, to overrule an objection from laconic prosecutor Mr Michael Byrne. The repartee between Justice Byrne and Mr Di Carlo was something worthy of an episode of Boston legal. The trial was not a “roving Inquisition”, said the judge, but a criminal trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and defence counsel needed to be clear about whether he was intending to suggest to the jury that someone other than the defendant was the likely killer.

In other tactics, the defence counsel tried to suggest that a member of the Police Force, also named Singh, involved throughout the investigation, was a family friend, which presumably was intended to imply some conflict of interest. Di Carlo also asked why the Police had not asked for the tape of a second threatening phone call which later appeared to have been erased.

It will be disappointing if the defence chooses not to allow Max Sica to take the witness box to declare his innocence and allow himself to be cross-examined.