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Gargasoulas had no drug psychosis two days after Bourke St, court told

The Age logo The Age 9/11/2018 Adam Cooper & Chris Vedelago
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James Gargasoulas was calm, rational and not suffering from "drug-induced psychosis" two days after the Bourke Street incident, according to expert evidence heard at his trial.

Dr Morris Odell of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine was asked by the homicide squad to assess Mr Gargasoulas' mental health to determine whether he could be interviewed by police on January 23 last year.

The Supreme Court heard that Dr Odell administered a "mini-mental state examination" and interviewed Mr Gargasoulas.

"If a person has got signs of mental disturbance, if they're agitated, if they have signs that they're out of touch with reality, or if they're intoxicated with various things, if they're sleep deprived, if they've got injuries. There's a lot of reasons for a person to be not fit to be interviewed," Dr Odell said.

Mr Gargasoulas scored 28 out of a possible 30 during the examination. He lost the two points because he could not correctly spell a word backwards.

“At the end of that assessment I formed the opinion that he was fit to be interviewed," Dr Odell testified on Friday.

James Gargasoulas is taken into court on Friday. © AAP James Gargasoulas is taken into court on Friday. Senior Crown Prosecutor Ray Gibson also queried whether Mr Gargasoulas had been suffering from drug-induced psychosis at the time.

"Whatever the position of Mr Gargasoulas on January 20, when you saw him on January 23, were you satisfied that he wasn't displaying psychotic symptoms that would interfere with him being interviewed by police?"

“I didn’t think he was,” Dr Odell said.

Mr Gargasoulas made a "no comment" interview with police after the examination.

The court has already heard that the prosecution and defence agree that Mr Gargasoulas was in a drug-induced psychosis when he killed six people and injured 27 others after ploughing into crowds of pedestrians in Bourke Street last year.

Justice Mark Weinberg has previously instructed the jury that the use of drugs such as ice provide no defence to any criminal charge and do not affect criminal responsibility.

In later testimony on Friday, a witness in Bourke Street described how Mr Gargasoulas was seen smoking a cigarette as he drove into a crowd of pedestrians.

Solicitor Joshua Baldacchino was standing near the McDonald’s next to Hardware Lane on January 20 last year, when he saw the maroon Holden Commodore race through the Elizabeth Street intersection.

‘‘The car hit them just like it would hit an insect,’’ he told the Supreme Court on Friday.

‘‘The gentleman driving the car seemed like he was going for a regular drive. He had both hands on the steering wheel and what looked like a cigarette in his mouth.’’

A sketch of James Gargasoulas in court © Paul Tyquin/AAP A sketch of James Gargasoulas in court Another witness described Mr Gargasoulas’ as a skilful driver who was ‘‘totally in control’’ of the car as he turned into Bourke Street Mall from Swanston Street.

Six pedestrians died and 27 others were injured.

Mr Gargasoulas, 28, is standing trial and has pleaded not guilty to six charges of murder and 27 counts of reckless conduct endangering life.

On Friday, the prosecution called three non-police witnesses who were in the street that day to describe their experiences. None were injured during the incident.

All provided graphic descriptions of the car’s impact with pedestrians and the injuries sustained by the victims, which The Age has decided not to publish.

In earlier testimony on Friday, one of the police officers who pursued Mr Gargasoulas as he drove into Bourke Street told of the chaos when police realised pedestrians were being hit.

Detective Senior Constable Adam Burnett told the Supreme Court that he drove near the stolen car Mr Gargasoulas was driving in Swanston Street, until the maroon Holden Commodore turned left into Bourke Street.

‘‘I just could hear screaming straight away. It was madness,’’ the detective recalled in the witness box.

‘‘I could actually see pedestrians flung into the air.’’

As the Commodore continued hitting people along the street, Detective Burnett recalled hearing police communications over the radio.

‘‘I remember hearing a voice on the police radio saying ’The car is hitting pedestrians, it must be stopped at all costs’,’’ he said.

The car allegedly driven by James Gargasoulas after it hit and killed six pedestrians on Bourke Street. © AAP/DPP The car allegedly driven by James Gargasoulas after it hit and killed six pedestrians on Bourke Street. After a police vehicle rammed the Commodore and it came to a stop outside a travel agency, the trial heard, Mr Gargasoulas was arrested and officers began helping the injured.

Detective Burnett said he ran to a young girl and asked a man nearby how old the child was, but the man replied: ‘‘It’s not my child, I just found her in the street.’’

In the hours before the tragedy, police searched for Mr Gargasoulas as he was suspected of stabbing his brother Angelo in Windsor.

Detective Burnett said he and a colleague were driving when they saw the Commodore by chance and followed it through St Kilda, Windsor, Prahran and Toorak before Mr Gargasoulas, realising he was being followed, stopped in South Melbourne and beckoned the officers over.

But he took off again, the court heard, and police pursued him but quickly called off their chase due to traffic in the area.

Asked why police didn’t try to block or ram the Commodore at that stage, Detective Burnett said: ‘‘Ramming cars with police vehicles doesn’t always have a good outcome, so that’s why we decided to sit back in the traffic.’’

Mr Gargasoulas’ girlfriend, Akiir Muo, told police she saw him stab Angelo with a large silver-coloured knife and then flee. When she next saw James, early on the morning of January 20, he hurried her into the car and drove ‘‘crazy’’.

‘‘The way he was driving I just thought my life was gone. There was no way he was going to stop,’’ Ms Muo, 26, said in a statement read to the jury by a prosecutor.

She said Mr Gargasoulas told her: ‘‘If the cops come and find me I will run everyone down in the city.’’ He also spoke about a comet hitting Earth and him being the saviour, she said.

After Mr Gargasoulas drove away from police, he pushed Ms Muo out of the car on Kings Way and drove towards the West Gate Bridge.

Maria Butler, who was pregnant with Mr Gargasoulas' child at the time of the tragedy, said he rang her that morning admitting stabbing Angelo.

In another call to Ms Butler, he said he felt alone and that the world would end when the comet hit.

"He said 'I want to kill myself, I am not going to let them get me and go down like a b---h'," Ms Butler said in a statement read by prosecutor Georgina Coghlan.

Earlier, Mr Gargasoulas had his head bowed in the dock when Ms Coghlan outlined the injuries some of the victims suffered.

The trial continues.

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