Survivor of war-torn Somalia ruled mentally unfit to stand trial for murder

By Asad Cabdullahi Mataan

A man who grew up in war-ravaged Somalia has been found unfit to stand trial for the murder of a complete stranger repeatedly stabbed in the neck with a broken beer bottle in a Fitzroy street.

A Supreme Court jury found Fatah Issa, 26, would be incapable of understanding the evidence at his trial or give instructions to his defence lawyer because of his mental health problems.

Psychiatrist Dr Douglas Bell told the court on Wednesday he examined Mr Issa on three separate occasions at the Melbourne Assessment Prison after his arrest for the murder of Shaun Wright, 21, on March 17 last

Dr Bell said Mr Issa was suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder because of his childhood in Somalia.

He said Mr Issa had been exposed to “quite frightening and indeed appalling experiences” when growing up in the war-ravaged country.

Mr Issa and his family had been subjected to considerable violence before emigrating to Australia but he had never been able to adjust to life in Melbourne and was dogged by a range of mental health problems.

Dr Bell said Mr Issa suffered from anxiety and distressing memories of the traumatic experiences he had gone through in Somalia.

If Mr Issa hears the sound of a door banging it reminds him of gunshots being fired in Somalia and he suffers from constant nightmares.

Dr Bell said Mr Issa had abused alcohol from when he was 13 in an attempt to deal with his emotional and psychological problems.

Mr Issa allegedly crossed paths with the alleged murder victim, Mr Wright, in the early hours of March 17 last year in Johnston Street, Fitzroy.

Mr Wright had been out celebrating a friend’s birthday when he picked up a piece of wood and inexplicably threw it at a parked car.

Three young women in the car at the time got out and remonstrated with Mr Wright and his two friends before they ran off.

The women and another man then drove around Fitzroy looking for Mr Wright before they found him and chased him down a laneway.

During the chase, one of the women tripped and Mr Issa, who did not know any of the people involved, asked if she was alright.

The woman ignored Mr Issa and continued to chase Mr Wright.

After the group of three women and their male friend cornered Mr Wright in Johnston Street, police claimed Mr Issa suddenly appeared and struck Mr Wright several times with a broken beer bottle causing
his death. Mr Issa had never met Mr Wright before the alleged attack.

The Supreme Court jury was asked on Wednesday to effectively rubber stamp an application by Crown prosecutor Mark Rochford, QC, to find Mr Issa unfit to stand trial.

But before doing this, the jury asked Justice Lex Lasry what would happen to Mr Issa in the future.

Justice Lasry said Mr Issa would eventually be sent to the Thomas Embling Hospital, the state’s only secure mental health centre, for treatment in the hope that he would be fit to stand trial in the next
six to 12 months.

The jury formally returned a finding that Mr Issa was unfit to stand trial and he was remanded to appear again on October 10 when Justice Lasry hoped a bed would become available for him in Thomas Embling.