Australian journalist and website found guilty of contempt of court after aborted murder trial

Yahoo7 reporter Krystal Johnson has been found guilty of contempt of court.
JUSTIN MCMANUS

Yahoo7 reporter Krystal Johnson has been found guilty of contempt of court.

Journalist Krystal Johnson and her employer, news website Yahoo7, have been found guilty of contempt of court, it can now be revealed, after publishing an online article that forced a Melbourne murder trial to be aborted.

Johnson this year bypassed sub-editors and published an article about Mataio Aleluia's murder trial, but the report contained material that had not been put to the jury, which left Justice Lex Lasry no option than to abort the trial and order a retrial.

Aleluia was on Thursday found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Brittany Harvie, which now allows media to publish details about Johnson's case.

The Supreme Court was this year told Johnson was not in court when she wrote the article about the trial, and instead included details she had lifted from an accurate report from an earlier hearing.

Those details had not been presented to the jury.

Johnson's lawyers later told the court she thought the sub-editors were too "busy" at the time to check her report and so published it herself.

Contempt of court is an offence that carries jail as a possible penalty, or steep fines.

Johnson is due to return to court in January on the issues of penalties and costs.

Her report revealed information about Harvie that the first jury was not told about, which meant if the trial continued it ran the risk it would be unfair to Aleluia.

Johnson's report included a Facebook post Harvie wrote before she died, in which she feared Aleluia might one day put her "six feet under".

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The offending article was online for five days in August, before Yahoo7 staff took it down when they learned the jury had been discharged.

The article was read 4000 times in Victoria while online, the court heard.

In handing down his verdict on the contempt of court charge, Justice John Dixon said Johnson's report was clearly prejudicial.

"The accused was standing trial for murder, the most serious offence known to the law," he said in findings released by the court on Thursday.

"As a matter of fact, the content of the article clearly had a real and definite tendency to prejudice the accused's trial."

Prosecutor Kerri Judd, QC, earlier told the court that publishing the article was a serious example of contempt, as Yahoo7 was a well-known major website that could be read nationally without subscription.

Judd said jury members could have found the article had their friends or family members shared the information with them in conversation or on social media.

Defence counsel William Houghton, QC, argued there was no evidence this had actually happened.

He said the article had not been viewed many times before it was taken down, so there was a low risk it had prejudiced the jury, particularly as Justice Lasry had warned jurors to ignore any media coverage of the case.

Justice Dixon said Johnson's offence was a reminder to all publishers - including news outlets, bloggers, citizen journalists and social media users - they should never publish material in trials that not been heard by the jury.

- Brisbane Times, AAP

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