Onitolosi Latu is on trial for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Rhonda Baker.
Onitolosi Latu is on trial for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Rhonda Baker.

Accused killer ‘gave himself haircut’

AN accused killer who allegedly bludgeoned his girlfriend to death in their Sydney apartment subjected her to years of abuse and made her fear "she was going to die", a court has heard.

Onitolosi Etuini Atiai Latu, 30, is on trial in the NSW Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to the alleged murder of his girlfriend Rhonda Baker in Liverpool, a suburb in the city's west.

Ms Baker, 26, suffered facial fractures, broken ribs and a brain bleed from a "blunt force trauma" before she died in Liverpool Hospital on August 7, 2016.

The court heard Latu called triple-0 at 4.24am and was instructed to administer CPR as an ambulance was dispatched to the couple's two-bedroom apartment. A responding paramedic saw Ms Baker on the hallway floor, laying bloodied, bruised and lifeless, with pink fluid frothing from her mouth, the jury was told.

In his opening address, Crown prosecutor Guy Newton said that Latu allegedly told one of the paramedics: "I came home to find her like this … while I was asking her what happened, she had a seizure".

Defence barrister Gregory Woods QC today told the jury that Latu had been "a less than perfect partner" to Ms Baker but that he didn't kill her.

"It was an on and off relationship that had gone on for a number years," he said.

"You'll hear that on a number of occasions she was bruised and knocked about and my client doesn't dispute that.

"My client's position is he doesn't know who killed Rhonda. But he knows that he didn't do it."

On Thursday, Sharnee Marfutenko told the court that her best friend, Ms Baker, called her crying in late 2010 and told her that Latu had just attacked her in the car.

"She said 'he just lost it and slammed my head into the car window while I was driving'," Ms Marfutenko told the court.

It marked the first of many times Ms Baker told her that she had been assaulted by Latu, the jury heard. Ms Marfutenko said Ms Baker often sported black eyes, dark purple and yellow bruises on different parts of her body, a busted lip, and once showed her a patch on her head where hair had been ripped out.

"She'd tell me sometimes he'd pull her by her hair and drag her," Ms Marfutenko said.

"She told me he would bang her head into the car then he'd calm down."

On one occasion after Latu allegedly punched Ms Baker in the face, Ms Marfutenko asked her "why he did this", and she responded that he had "skitzed it".

"She told me he was angry at her because she wasn't ready in time to take him somewhere," Ms Marfutenko said.

"She told me he smashed the TV in their room and dragged her by the hair into the loungeroom.

"She thought she was going to die."

Ms Marfutenko cried on the stand as she told of seeing a "large, dark purple bruise on the whole side of (Ms Baker's) thigh" which her friend told her was caused by Latu stomping on her.

"(One time) she told me that when she went to sleep he bashed her," Ms Marfutenko said.

Rhonda Baker was just 26-years-old when she died.
Rhonda Baker was just 26-years-old when she died.

Ms Baker's father Timothy Tetava today stared down Latu as he entered the witness box to tell the jury that his daughter was the victim of domestic violence. During an emotional testimony, Mr Tetava said that he had previously questioned his daughter about bruises and black eyes he had noticed on her but that she hadn't told him much.

He said he used to "speak everyday" to Ms Baker and that she once called him to ask "Dad, can I stay with you please" after a fight with Latu. Mr Tetava cried heavily when he recounted receiving a call to inform him that Ms Baker had been killed. His tears continued to fall as he finished giving evidence and walked outside of the courtroom supported by family.

Latu, who appeared in the dock with his long, curly hair tied back, didn't meet Mr Tetava's gaze but appeared to simultaneously break down crying moments before he was led away for a lunch adjournment.

Ms Baker's mother Darcel Baker today testified through tears that her daughter told her she couldn't leave Latu because he had made threats to "get" her family and burn her grandfather's house down.

A photo tribute to Rhonda Baker on Facebook.
A photo tribute to Rhonda Baker on Facebook.

Mr Newton said the Crown will allege that Latu tried to cover up evidence that he murdered Ms Baker by attempting to clean blood off the floor, and shaving his own head, before he realised it "wouldn't work" and called triple-0.

"When police went in the bathroom they found a garbage bin with a plastic liner full of the accused's hair … (some of which was) also on top of basin," Mr Newton said on Thursday.

"There was a red rag mixed in with his hair that has blood on it, from a DNA perspective it's consistent with Ms Baker's blood."

Latu allegedly later told police he arrived home at 4am to find Ms Baker injured in the bathroom and asked her what happened.

When she said she'd been mugged but didn't want to talk about it, Latu gave himself a haircut.

"He said 'I don't know (why), I thought I might as well get a haircut...She actually seemed fine, I didn't know she was in a bad condition'," Mr Newton told the court.

"He's got a partner with at least one eye swollen up...and he indicates that was pretty much as far as he took it."

 

 

Onitolosi Latu allegedly told a responding paramedic that Ms Baker had a seizure before she died.
Onitolosi Latu allegedly told a responding paramedic that Ms Baker had a seizure before she died.

The prosecution will allege that officers found blood throughout Ms Baker's car - including on a headrest, window, the exterior and a fire escape door - which was parked under their unit on Bathurst St. Mr Woods told the jury the defence would dispute those claims. He said it would also argue that the allegation that Ms Baker's DNA was found under Latu's fingernails was linked to their cohabitation and the CPR Latu performed on her.

He said his client was "no doubt in turmoil about what had occurred" but that "there's no murder weapon said to be found".

"(There's) no blunt object which police are going to present in this trial," Mr Woods said.

The court earlier heard there was an AVO in place at the time of Ms Baker's death but it allowed the pair to live together. The jury was told Ms Baker was living in fear of Latu who had allegedly threatened to "cave (her) head in".

The jury was told that the couple exchanged emails about three weeks before the alleged murder in which Latu allegedly expressed he was "not happy" with Ms Baker over past incidents he "regards as infidelity".

Ms Baker allegedly wrote: "I'm trying to do the best I can right now for us and this relationship but it's hard, especially when you're going off at me and making threats.

"I can't keep living in fear like this every time something happens."

Several of Ms Baker's family members and friends, as well as police officers, paramedics and medical experts are expected to give evidence at the trial, which has been set down for four weeks.


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