Townsville father Nicholas Aaron Baxter leaves Townsville courthouse alongside his supporters after the first day of his retrial. He was acquitted of the murder of his six-week-old son but convicted and jailed in 2017 after a jury found him guilty of manslaughter. This conviction was overturned at appeal.
Townsville father Nicholas Aaron Baxter leaves Townsville courthouse alongside his supporters after the first day of his retrial. He was acquitted of the murder of his six-week-old son but convicted and jailed in 2017 after a jury found him guilty of manslaughter. This conviction was overturned at appeal.

Judge to decide father’s fate at retrial

ALMOST a decade after turning off his infant son's life support, a Townsville father has pleaded not guilty to the death for the second time.

Matthew Riley Baxter came into this world a few days early on September 24, 2011, weighing 2.9kg. At six weeks old, he was rushed to hospital unresponsive and three days later the sweet baby with the mop of black hair died.

His father, Nicholas Aaron Baxter, was acquitted of his murder but convicted and jailed in 2017 after a jury found him guilty of manslaughter. This conviction was overturned on appeal.

His second trial, which began yesterday in the Townsville Supreme Court, will be decided by a judge sitting alone.

Justice David North must hear from the witnesses, analyse the evidence and answer the harrowing question: Did this man who has been painted as a doting father kill his son after inflicting traumatic injuries on the small infant while caring for him alone?

In his opening address, Crown prosecutor Nigel Rees said the evidence would show that the injuries Matthew suffered were "highly indicative" of "non-accidental trauma".

Matthew Riley Baxter died in 2011. Two weeks his death, Townsville's Child Protection Investigation Unit charged his father Nicholas Aaron Baxter, then a 31-year-old army corporal with murder. Picture: Roanne Johnson
Matthew Riley Baxter died in 2011. Two weeks his death, Townsville's Child Protection Investigation Unit charged his father Nicholas Aaron Baxter, then a 31-year-old army corporal with murder. Picture: Roanne Johnson

Mr Baxter, who is a former Australian soldier, was alone with Matthew on November 3, 2011.

He called a medical practice and then triple-0 before his son was rushed to hospital in a critical condition - limp, struggling to breathe and unresponsive.

An audio recording of the triple-0 call was played to the court, in which Mr Baxter can be heard telling the operator Matthew was not breathing and that he could not feel a pulse.

As the call continued, Mr Baxter, who is trained in CPR, was guided through mouth-to-mouth and coached as he tried to get Matthew's heart beating again.

First responders who gave evidence on Monday described the first-time father's demeanour as "very calm" and "clinical".

Hospital staff reported the incident to police as suspected abuse, investigating officer Detective Senior Sergeant Phil Watts said as he gave evidence.

Through his investigations Sen-Sgt Watts found that Mr Baxter had no convictions and that he was not adversely recorded in any police record or known to the Department of Child Safety.

Defence barrister Lincoln Crowley QC (centre) leaves the Townsville courthouse after the first day of the retrial of father Nicholas Aaron Baxter.
Defence barrister Lincoln Crowley QC (centre) leaves the Townsville courthouse after the first day of the retrial of father Nicholas Aaron Baxter.

Mr Baxter's defence barrister, Lincoln Crowley QC, described the case as "circumstantial" in his opening address and said that "Mr Baxter did not harm his son."

"He did not violently shake him, he did not strike his head," he said.

Mr Crowley outlined the defence case, saying that Matthew died after his brain was starved of oxygen, but that this was not caused by a traumatic event.

Mr Baxter's wife gave evidence via video link.

The pair met while on deployment in Afghanistan in 2009.

Two years later they were married and had welcomed Matthew into their lives.

She said that her husband was a doting father, who was there for all the milestones in Matthew's short life, including his first feed, first bath and first nappy change.

"He was loving, he was nurturing, he changed nappies, he bathed him, he comforted him, spent time with him," she said

Ms Baxter gave evidence that Matthew had exhibited strange behaviour in the lead-up to his death, including shaking his head, gulping for breath and randomly stiffening his body.

During cross-examination, she noted an incident a day prior to his hospitalisation in which the six-week-old's eyes rolled back into his head and he stopped breathing.

In this incident, Ms Baxter said Matthew lifted his head up and hit it against her forearm.

She also gave evidence about an incident while she was caring for Matthew alone when she became frustrated and punched pillows on the bed repeatedly while the infant lay nearby.

The trial continues on Tuesday and is expected to run into next week.

 

ashley.pillhofer@news.com.au

 

Originally published as Judge to decide father's fate at retrial


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