Accused murderer says mum killed toddler
An Australian man has denied bashing his then girlfriend's toddler to death, alleging the child's mother did it and he only helped hide the body.
John Clifford Torney, 32, is on trial in Mildura, after pleading not guilty to murdering Nikki Francis-Coslovich at her family home in the regional Victorian town on August 25, 2015.
Nikki was fatally beaten but could have survived for up to an hour before she died, prosecutor Gavin Silbert QC has told the Supreme Court trial.
"She was bashed to death," Silbert said in his opening address on Wednesday.
Nikki was reported missing on August 25 by her mother, Peta-Ann Francis, after she discovered her little girl's bed was empty.
The toddler had spent the morning at home with Torney while her mother ran errands, which have been verified by CCTV footage, Silbert said.
Her body was later discovered in the home's roof cavity by a police officer who had noticed dirty fingerprints on a manhole cover in the hallway and climbed on a chair to investigate.
Silbert said an autopsy found Nikki had died between 11am and 2.30pm that day.
"A pathologist will tell you that, based on the horrific injuries sustained, she could have been alive for up to an hour after the bashing before she died."
Nikki had injuries to her kidney, liver and skull and had lost one third of her body's blood volume, he said.
The prosecution alleges there is a four-hour window during which Torney killed her.
Torney was alone with Nikki until about 12.30pm when her mother returned.
Silbert said the pair smoked several cones of cannabis, had sex, and fell asleep before Francis woke up at 2.40pm and realised her daughter was missing.
The defence says it was Francis who murdered her daughter, not her boyfriend.
In a police interview after Torney was charged with murder, he alleged Francis told him "I've gone too far with Nikki, she's not breathing" while standing outside the toddler's bedroom.
Barrister Julie Condon said Francis told Torney she had thrown the girl on the bed, and asked him to hide the body and go along with the missing person's story.
"She's a woman who has spun so many lies, not little lies but big, bad ones," Condon said in her defence opening statement to the trial.
Francis' alleged lies and inconsistent statements to police "speak of a guilty conscience", she said.
Condon says a recording of the triple-zero call that Francis made to report Nikki's disappearance - to be played to the jury - shows Francis was unable to respond to the operator's question about when she last saw her daughter.
Francis had been monitored by child protection officers, and was not coping with the demands of motherhood, Torney's defence says.
They do not dispute CCTV footage which shows Francis running errands the day Nikki died.
But they say the mother was also at home during the time it's alleged the girl was beaten to death.
The prosecution has told the jury Francis is a key witness.
The trial before Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth is expected to last three weeks.
TIMELINE OF NIKKI FRANCIS-COSLOVICH'S DEATH ON AUGUST 25, 2015:
2.40pm - Nikki's mother, Peta-Ann Francis, realises her daughter is missing. She and her boyfriend John Torney search the home and neighbouring properties
3.16pm - Francis calls emergency services to report Nikki missing
3.30pm - Police arrive at the home and search the area with the help of neighbours and volunteers
5.15pm - Police decide to conduct a second search of the house. An officer finds Nikki's body in the roof cavity of the home. No pulse is detected
5.30pm - A paramedic arrives and confirms Nikki is dead. He observes rigor mortis has set in
6pm - Francis is arrested but not charged
A pathologist concludes Nikki died between 11am and 2.30pm on August 25
Nikki had blunt force trauma injuries to her liver, kidney, and skull. She had lost one third of her blood volume
Nikki would have died within an hour of receiving her fatal injuries
Torney is charged with her murder on August 28
WHAT THE PROSECUTION SAY HAPPENED TO NIKKI:
Torney allegedly bashed the toddler between 10am and 2pm
Francis was allegedly away from home during most of this time period
Torney allegedly hid Nikki's body in the roof cavity
WHAT THE DEFENCE SAYS HAPPENED:
Francis allegedly told Torney she had hurt Nikki
Francis allegedly asked Torney to hide the girl's body, and go along with the missing person's report.
Source: Prosecution and defence openings to the Victorian Supreme Court sitting in Mildura.