Five boys charged with the murder of Melbourne teen Solomone Taufeulungaki have been released on bail. The teenagers will have to abide by strict conditions, including not gathering in groups more than five people and steering clear of the Brimbank Shopping Centre where the 15-year-old was fatally stabbed in June.
Eleven people, including nine aged 13 to 17, are charged with Solomone’s murder. It’s the most murder charges ever laid over a single death in Victoria.
Supreme Court Justice Paul Coghlan on Wednesday granted bail to five of the teens – two aged 13, two aged 14 and a 15-year-old.
They were first charged with affray and released on bail after the June 16 incident which allegedly involved a gang dispute.
They were taken into custody two weeks ago after being charged with murder, following further police investigations.
In a bail application last week Justice Coghlan said they had done well while back in the community, particularly given their ages.
As well as a condition that the boys don’t associate with each other, or any other prosecution witnesses, a condition that they don’t associate with known or suspected gang members was also sought.
But Justice Coghlan said identifying those people might be an issue, so settled for a condition they do not congregate in groups of more than five, unless for school or organized sports over summer.
While some of the boys had breached bail conditions – including one boy spending several nights at his girlfriend’s house, and others drinking together in a park – he wasn’t overly concerned with those past infractions.
But he warned such rule breaking wouldn’t fly this time.
Breaching the association condition would lead to trouble and police wouldn’t hesitate to bring the matter back to court.
“I might be placed in a position where I don’t have any option but to revoke bail – which you might all think is pretty undesirable in the circumstances,” he said.
They will also have to abide by a curfew and abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Justice Coghlan said there were exceptional circumstances that worked in favor of their release, including their ages, the coronavirus pandemic and possible delay.
During last week’s hearing he said it was too early to predict when a murder trial with 11 defendants might happen.
“You’d need to try and probably do it in almost a non-COVID risk situation, and it might well be a courtroom would need to be found or even potentially constructed,” he said.
He doesn’t expect any trial would happen before 2022.
“For the life of a 13-year-old to be put on hold for two years is a very significant thing,” he said.
Justice Coghlan will monitor the boys while they are on bail, expecting a hearing to check up on them early next year.