NRL player Manase Fainu has been found guilty of stabbing a Mormon youth leader in the back, puncturing the man’s lung, when a bloody brawl erupted in a Sydney church car park .
The Manly Sea Eagles hooker , 24, had denied plunging a knife into Faamanu Levi outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wattle Grove, in Sydney’s south-west, on October 25, 2019. He pleaded not guilty to one count of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
On Thursday afternoon, after two hours of deliberations, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 25 years behind bars, with a standard non-parole period of seven years.
Fainu showed no obvious reaction to the verdict, which his barrister Margaret Cunneen, SC, said would be appealed against “as a perverse verdict in view of the evidence”. She had read her client passages from a Bible in the moments before the jury filed into the courtroom.
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The Crown made a detention application, under new bail laws, which was opposed by Cunneen who argued Fainu was not someone who could “fly under the radar” and said it was “impossible to imagine that he would breach any bail condition” ahead of sentencing.
She said her client was supported by a God-fearing community who would be devastated by Thursday’s outcome. Two sheriff officers sat inside the courtroom on either side of the exit.
Due to the time, at 4.30pm (Australian time) on Thursday, Judge Nanette Williams adjourned Fainu’s detention application until Monday morning.
She said it could not be determined on Friday due to planned industrial action by prison officers.
“Tomorrow there is no point,” she said. “Were I to form a view that the detention application is made good, there’s simply no one to take Mr Fainu into custody, extraordinary as it might seem.”
She increased Fainu’s bail conditions, so he must report to police on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and is not to leave his address unless in the company of his mother and father, who were among those in court to hear the verdict.
As Fainu left court, met by over 30 family and friends and flanked by security and Manly teammate Josh Aloiai, his lawyer Paul McGirr said, “there’s nothing that he wants to say at this stage”.
Supporters of Fainu during his trial in Parramatta District Court included his agent Mario Tartak, Manly coach Des Hasler and Aloiai, who appeared on the same day as the Sea Eagles’ game against the Roosters and was one of seven players to sit out after objecting to wearing a pride jersey.
The jury was told Fainu had not played NRL since 2019 under the code’s no-fault stand-down policy.
During his day in the stand, Fainu claimed he had been at least 10 metres away from the brawl between his friends and Levi’s group.
He said two friends, including Uona “Big Buck” Faingaa, had earlier been kicked out of a charity dance in the church hall where Faingaa said he intended to pick up money for a concreting job.
Fainu said, after that incident, he jumped over a fence back onto church grounds expecting to collect the money himself, but his friends followed him over, and then he saw “like a brawl going on”.
“I backpedalled,” he said, adding that his NRL training was to walk away and not get involved.
Fainu said he ran after hearing “knife, knife” and claimed he did not know who stabbed the victim.
It is an agreed fact that Fainu had an operation on his left shoulder in September 2019 and was wearing a sling on the night of the stabbing. He was captured on CCTV jumping back over the fence and picking his sling up off the ground.
Levi gave evidence he and his best friend had walked two men to the front gate after a fight on the dance floor and told them to go home.
“I said … this is a church activity,” Levi said, adding that one shook his head and replied, “F— you.”
“I don’t know who was calling out, [saying], ‘Come out and see what you want,’ but I said, ‘Goodbye, we’re going back inside.’”
He said he had “never experienced this kind of thing”, and a fight later erupted next to his car.
Levi felt a stab to his lower right shoulder and said he “was in pain that I can’t explain”, but did not see who had knifed him.
His housemate, Tony Quach, said he saw Fainu holding a steak knife with a clenched fist, his right arm bent at a 90-degree angle and his left arm in a sling, looking “angry” as he stabbed Levi’s back.
Quach said he “recognised Manase” after the incident.
Levi’s friend Kupi Toilalo was “adamant the person with the knife was the person with the sling”, Crown prosecutor Emma Curran had submitted.
Cunneen had said Fainu’s sling “drew the eye” and was a “distinguishing feature” of the group of five men, but argued there was no one else’s DNA on it.
She told the jury her client had “really suffered by his position as a football player”.
“It was easy to blame it on him because some people knew him and the sling stood out.”
Sydney Morning Herald