The younger sister of a much-loved country postmaster has expressed her anger at his “slow, agonising death” after he was attacked by a drunk former firefighter.
Suzanne Heppell returned to the Victorian Supreme Court on Wednesday, more than three months after sitting through the trial of her brother’s killer, Troy Maskell, 44.
“It’s been over two years now, two years of hell, falling deeper and deeper into despair,” she said.
“When the court found the perpetrator guilty I didn’t feel better … I just want to go back to August 7, 2021, when John rang me up and he spoke at length about what he planned to do that weekend.”
The court was told Ms Heppell’s brother, John Burke, 73, died in hospital 11 weeks after he was assaulted by Maskell at the local service station in Strathmerton – a small tight-knit community near the NSW border.
The town’s postmaster for 45 years, Mr Burke had walked down to the station for a hot meal and chat with the friendly attendants shortly after midnight on August 8.
After about 10 minutes, a white utility vehicle pulled into the roadhouse.
Inside was Maskell, his then partner Fiona Taylor, their 10-year-old daughter and Ms Taylor’s son, 18.
Maskell would later tell police he’d drunk a carton of Carlton Dry and had a few shots of Jack Daniels earlier that night at a party at a friend’s home.
As they entered the petrol station, Mr Burke greeted the young girl, saying; “How are youse (sic)”, before an aggressive Ms Taylor falsely accused him of being a pedophile, the court was told.
Captured on CCTV cameras, a few seconds later Maskell picked up a one-litre bottle of Maximus Isotonic sports drink and threw it at Mr Burke.
The bottle struck his head and was followed up by Maskell with a kick to Mr Burke’s hip, which caused the elderly man to fall to the hard tile floor.
Maskell and Ms Taylor then stood over the injured man berating him before leaving. Ms Taylor is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Mr Burke was conscious but in pain and was taken to hospital where a subdural haematoma, or brain bleed, was found on the left side of his brain.
He died almost three months later, on October 28, after complications led his family to make the difficult decision to end treatment.
Over the trial, in arguments rejected by the jury, Maskell’s lawyers claimed Mr Burke’s pre-existing serious health conditions could have been the cause of his death independent of the “shameful” assault.
Finding Maskell guilty of manslaughter, the jury seemed to accept forensic pathologist Yeliena Baber’s evidence that if he hadn’t been attacked, Mr Burke wouldn’t have gone to hospital and died.
Ms Heppell told the court that after the assault she spoke with her “optimistic” brother 3-4 times a day and believed he would make a full recovery.
“I was full of hope for a speedy recovery, it never crossed my mind that he would die,” she said.
“Hours turned to days, days into weeks and then weeks into months … Eventually the doctors forced me to accept John’s prognosis.
“He was unable to communicate, locked in his frozen body … it was a slow, agonising death.
“I am so angry.”
She said Mr Burke was a loved figure in Strathmerton – a town that is still mourning his loss.
“He always had a story which he would often share with anyone who stepped inside the post office,” Ms Heppell said.
“Strathie was his life … being the postmaster for 45 years, he knew anyone and everyone.”
Maskell’s barrister Julia Munster told the court that her client “wishes he could take this all back”.
She said her client had been co-operative and honest with police despite his memory of the attack being “very blurry”.
Ms Munster said Maskell, a former firefighter, had turned to alcohol after suffering PTSD from the Black Saturday bushfires – his efforts earning him a national award.
His failure to address the issues led to relationships breaking down and alcohol misuse, she submitted.
She told the court that Maskell didn’t seek to justify the behaviour, recounting that he told a psychologist “there is no one else to blame but me”.
“No one else made me throw the bottle or kick John,” he said.
“Honestly wish it never happened, but it has.”
Justice Lex Lasry will hand down Maskell’s sentence next month.
Extracted in full from: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/troy-maskell-sisters-anger-after-strathmerton-petrol-station-attack-kills-john-burke-73/news-story/7cfb2d67b363692aa25ccbbcd3d4b489