Vic farmer pleads guilty to fatal shooting

A Victorian farmer has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the middle of a murder trial about whether he deliberately shot his friend in the head or accidentally fired the fatal shot after tripping on an eggplant.

Angelo Russo, 55, on Friday pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the 2017 death of David Calandro, who was shot while sitting in his ute at Russo’s Tatura farm in the Goulburn Valley.

Russo entered his plea after the prosecution agreed to withdraw the murder charge and other charges linked to Mr Calandro’s two young sons, who were in the vehicle with their father when he was shot on February 18, 2017.

Earlier this week, the defence told the jury in Russo’s Victorian Supreme Court trial that the farmer’s gun accidentally went off when he tripped on an eggplant.

“The shooting was an accident,” defence barrister Patrick Tehan QC said on Wednesday.

In his police interview, Russo told investigators: “There was an eggplant on the ground there and my foot must have rolled on it.”

“It happened in a split second … it was like I was falling and it went ‘bang’.”

Photos and footage of the crime scene played to the jury show the eggplant on the ground near Mr Calandro’s ute.

In its opening address on Tuesday, the prosecution alleged Russo walked up to Mr Calandro, 43, and deliberately shot him in the head because Russo was angry about his dog Harry being run over.

“Because this is such a serious case I won’t make any jokes about it, but it will loom large, this eggplant,” prosecutor Nicholas Papas QC said.

The jury heard evidence Mr Calandro accidentally ran over the dog as he tried to “spook it” by swerving towards the spaniel while driving out of Russo’s property.

On Friday, Mr Papas conceded the prosecution could not prove the farmer intended to shoot Mr Calandro.

“We cannot say that he deliberately discharged the weapon,” he told the court after the jury had been discharged.

“We have accepted that we cannot prove that.”

Mr Tehan said Russo had admitted manslaughter by criminal negligence.

“It’s the accidental discharge of a firearm that occurred in the context of the accused tripping,” the barrister said.

Russo “fell so far below” the standard of care expected of a person holding a loaded gun, Mr Tehan said.

Russo stood trial accused of murder despite a magistrate in November ruling there was insufficient evidence for a murder trial following a pre-trial committal hearing.

The magistrate downgraded the charge to manslaughter, but the prosecution reinstated the murder charge in the Supreme Court.

Russo will remain in custody and face a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday.

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