Concern about body modifier trial by WebEx

·2-min read

A NSW body modifier accused of unlawfully killing a woman by implanting a plastic snowflake in her hand is challenging the tendering of evidence adduced from a deceased person.

It is one of three pre-trial issues to be determined next week in the Sydney District Court.

But the Central Coast tattooist who markets himself as BSlice DotCom, may have to wait another 12 months to begin his trial proper after his lawyers and prosecutors became concerned about a trial by video conference.

Russell, 40, has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of Samantha Hegyl, under whose skin he allegedly implanted a snowflake in early 2017.

When Ms Hegyl complained of pain, Russell allegedly urged her to visit him instead of a hospital.

He also denies using a branding iron to mutilate another female customer's genitals in 2015 or causing grievous bodily harm to a third woman who sought a "tummy tuck" at his Erina tattoo and body modification business in 2016.

Some 43 witnesses and 17 experts are expected to be called in the crown case, while at least three experts are expected in the defence case, crown prosecutor Chris Taylor told the Sydney District Court on Tuesday.

While there was a substantial agreement as to the facts and the trial would be heard without a jury, the case was both heavy on documents and witnesses, he said.

Two witnesses with vulnerabilities were in Queensland, meaning they couldn't be afforded the support of NSW-based witness assistants.

Issues with connectivity and trying to show documents to witnesses on Cisco's WebEx also arose.

"There are complex factual and complex legal issues that will arise," Mr Taylor said.

"There's a real concern about whether the accused would receive a fair trial."

Challenging the joint position, Judge Dina Yehia noted judge-alone sexual assault trials had proceeded via videoconference with documents being shown to witnesses.

"(Those trials are) admittedly without the level of experts here," she said.

She warned waiting for an in-person trial would mean a start date in either May or, more likely, August 2022.

"It is a significant delay and the court can, in fact, proceed with it this month and next month," Judge Yehia said.

As well as the crown application to tender hearsay evidence from a person who'd since become deceased, the pre-trial hearing will deal with the admissibility of a defence expert opinion using the phrase "beyond reasonable doubt".

Questions on tendency and coincidence evidence are also due to be thrashed out.

The two-day hearing begins on September 6.

US body modifier Howard Rollins, also known by his moniker Luna Cobra, was found not guilty in 2020 of assisting Russell in a botched labia removal in January 2015.

In that case, the trial judge couldn't be satisfied Rollins was in the room, knew all the facts and circumstances, and had issued instructions to Russell excising the woman's labia.

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