A woman accused murdering an elderly former barrister in his apartment in Sydney's eastern suburbs texted a crime journalist on Christmas Day saying she was being "set up" by her neighbours.
Steve Hart told the Supreme Court in Sydney he received a string of texts from Narelle Fiona Smith while he was working as a senior crime journalist for Channel 10.
"I think I'm being set up," Smith wrote to Hart on December 25, 2020, before apologising for getting in touch during the holidays.
Smith, 46, is accused of murdering Peter McCarthy with a frying pan, after his body was found in his South Coogee unit on December 20, face-up on the lounge room floor surrounded by broken furniture, glasses and frying pan, the jury has been told.
The 77-year-old was found on Sunday, December 20, three days after Smith says the pair drank alone in his apartment, celebrating her birthday.
Hart visited Mr McCarthy's Coogee unit block the day his body was found to do interviews and prepare a story, and struck up a conversation with Smith, who said Mr McCarthy was a friend.
Smith said she was with him on Thursday, and a day after police believed Mr McCarthy was last been seen alive.
"It's strong in my memory, the detail," Hart told the court.
"I recall her saying she left him alone (on Thursday) drunk on the lounge," he added.
"He's just a lovely guy that lives next door. He's a ladies man," a cheerful Smith told Hart during an interview.
"He's an ex-barrister. He was giving me some (legal) advice," she told Hart.
"I can't go there," she said, when asked about the gruesome crime scene and whether Mr McCarthy had any enemies.
Hart said he considered Smith a friendly neighbour of the victim, and they exchanged numbers to discuss the case.
Channel 10 later aired a portion of the interview, agreeing to blur her face and protect her identity.
This interview would air again after her arrest, without being blurred.
On Christmas Eve, Hart called Smith to ask her a range of fact-checking questions regarding images police released to media.
During the conversation, Hart asked offhandedly if Smith had acquired any photos of the crime scene.
"Why would I have crime scene pictures?" she responded. "I was there on the Thursday."
Smith then told Hart that if anyone heard unusual noises, it was because she had been dragging a heavy bag of garbage down the stairs during her last visit to the victim's apartment.
On Christmas Day, Smith began texting Hart again.
"I think I'm being set up," she wrote.
Hart replied: "Merry Christmas. Who is setting you up?"
Smith said she was being told her neighbours had been talking about her being behind Mr McCarthy's death.
"Sorry to do this on Christmas," she said. "One last thing: can you let me know where the funeral is?"
"If I find out - for sure," Hart responded.
Two days later, Smith texted Hart again, complaining people in her area were looking at her like she was to blame.
"I don't think someone on their birthday ... is going to do that," she told Hart.
"The evil little smirks around here - it does my head in."
Smith was arrested just over a fortnight later, on January 11.
Hart told the court he engaged with Smith as a source while he covered the story, and did not know police had been looking at the 46-year-old for the alleged murder.
The trial continues on Wednesday.