Baby’s death remains mystery after dad acquitted

The cause of death of six-week-old baby Matthew Riley Baxter "remains a matter of speculation" after Justice David North acquitted Nicholas Aaron Baxter for manslaughter in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Mr Baxter, a former Australian soldier, was accused of killing his newborn son in Townsville almost a decade ago and jailed in 2017 after a jury found him not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

The conviction was later overturned and a retrial was ordered by Queensland's Court of Appeal.

Justice North ordered Mr Baxter be tried by a judge sitting without a jury and said a charge of manslaughter required proof beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Baxter caused his son's death and said "proof to that standard is absent".

Nicholas Aaron Baxter leaves Townsville Magistrates Court after the third day of his committal hearing. Photo: Emma Channon
Nicholas Aaron Baxter leaves Townsville Magistrates Court after the third day of his committal hearing. Photo: Emma Channon

Justice North delivered his verdict in the Townsville Supreme Court on April 6 before a 71-page document outlining the reasons behind his decision was published.

The document showed Justice North rejected claims the baby was suffering from a serious underlying health problem and evidence suggested Matthew was "a normal and essentially healthy and well-nourished infant".

Justice North was told that Matthew suffered serious injuries including brain haemorrhages, bleeding behind the eyes and swelling to the brain.

"What caused Matthew's death remains a matter of speculation," Justice North said.

Justice North ruled he would exclude the evidence of two expert witnesses, Dr Lamont and Dr Skellerton, "because their opinions rely heavily on falsified assumptions".

"Satisfaction of guilt beyond reasonable doubt must be based upon evidentiary proof to the required standard not upon speculation," Justice North said.

Baby Matthew Riley Baxter ''fighting for his life'' on life support in the Townsville Hospital. Picture: Roanne Johnson
Baby Matthew Riley Baxter ''fighting for his life'' on life support in the Townsville Hospital. Picture: Roanne Johnson

"The prosecution has not demonstrated to the requisite standard all the elements to prove manslaughter," Justice North said.

Justice North also took into consideration the "unchallenged evidence" of Mr Baxter's good character "coming from a number of sources including his wife".

Outside court, Detective Senior Sergeant Phil Watts who was the arresting officer in the investigation said he was "disappointed" in the decision handed down but said he had to "respect the decision of the court".

Baxter trial at Townsville Court. Detective Senior Sergeant Phil Watts. Picture: Evan Morgan
Baxter trial at Townsville Court. Detective Senior Sergeant Phil Watts. Picture: Evan Morgan

Mr Watts thanked the police and medical witnesses involved in the investigation and subsequent trials and said it had been a "very long process".

"We'll take some time to review the decision and the reasons for it," Mr Watts said.

 

hugh.suffell@news.com.au

Originally published as NOT GUILTY: Baby's death remains mystery after dad acquitted


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