Two men jailed over the contract killing of Dragun Sekuljica at Splashes Nightclub in 2007 have been acquitted while two others have been granted a retrial.
Illawarra men Zlatan Popovic, Dalibor Bubanja and Jason Hristovski and Sydney ‘gun for hire’ Tevi Koloamatangi were each found guilty of Mr Sekuljica’s murder following a lengthy trial in 2014.
Eighteen months after their convictions, all four men still maintained their innocence and this year sought to have the jury’s decision reversed in the state’s highest court.
On Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed all four convictions after finding the star witnesses – getaway driver Justin Irwin and convicted-crook-turned-police-informant, Faoud Ekermawi – were unreliable.
They also found presiding judge, Acting Justice Robert Shallcross Hulme, had been too brief in his summing up of the defence cases in the original trial – thus depriving the four men of a fair trial.
The CCA went on to acquit Hristovski and Bubanja - effectively setting them free – after ruling the evidence presented in court did not establish beyond reasonable doubt the pair’s involvement in the murder.
Meantime, Popovic and Koloamatangi have been granted a retrial.
The Crown case alleges Mr Sekuljica was shot by a single gunman just after 3am on Saturday 8 September 2007 as he was leaving the Novotel Hotel nightclub.
The gunman fled to a vehicle driven by Irwin. Mr Sekuljica died at the scene.
The Crown case was that Popovic had arranged the murder following a falling out between the Bubanja family and Mr Sekuljica.
Police alleged Hristovski had supplied the gun to Koloamatangi earlier that evening, while Bubanja acted as the lookout at the club.
However, the CCA found Irwin and Ekermawi’s testimony was far from compelling and failed to prove Hristovski and Bubanja’s guilt.
In relation to Hristovski, the court found Irwin’s evidence about him obtaining the gun from Hristovski at his Warrawong home on September 7 was “incorrect”.
“Indeed I have considerable doubt whether Hristovski provided a gun to Irwin at all and whether the gun in Hristovski’s possession was used in the shooting of the deceased,” Justice Christine Adamson said.
In relation to Bubanja, Justice Adamson found doubt in claims he was part of a joint criminal enterprise to kill Mr Sekuljica, noting Bubanja did not follow Mr Sekuljica to Splashes, nor did he make any phone calls to his co-accused between when he arrived at the shooting.
“I do not consider that the Crown excluded the hypothesis that Bubanja’s conduct at Splashes was for a purpose unconnected with the deceased’s murder.”