As Richard Paul Pusey walked free from Ravenhall Correctional Centre on Wednesday, a great pallor of loss was cast over Melbourne.
The shame of it all, for many Melburnians, was almost too much to bear, many shouting their objections into a seemingly bottomless void.
Such was the toll of Pusey’s actions that, even after spending 14 of the last 16 months behind bars, we felt his debt hadn’t quite been fully paid. For many of us, the rules he broke in the afternoon of 22 April 2020 transcended legal categorisation; they were something unutterable, something precious which, if lost, would take years to retrieve.
The surest proof of this is that not even the practitioners of the law were satisfied with the limits of their own reach. The invocation of the rare “outraging public decency” charge signalled that Pusey broke more than the law and all but guaranteed that, when the case was decided, the sentence passed down and the accused let free after serving his term, none of us would quite be satisfied.
The 42-year-old’s rap sheet is long and the tally of adverse encounters with other Melburnians so numerous that it’s almost enough to have made him a kind of local celebrity. Pick out someone walking along Elizabeth Street and ask them if they had ever run into Pusey — judging from the list of incidents, the chances are not negligible. Speeding, destroying property, theft, disorderly behaviour, conducting work without proper permits, contravening a PSIO — the string of offences, over the course of 14 years, astonishes.
Perhaps the most astonishing part, however, is how unremarkable the events of 22 April appear set against the backdrop of Pusey’s other offending. Are we at all surprised that he was clocking 149km/h inbound on the Eastern Freeway? Are we surprised that he had MDMA and cannabis in his system? Are we surprised that, at the end of this chain of events he’d set off, a truck ploughed into the bystanding police cars while he urinated at the side of the freeway, leaving him, yet again, free to go?
But these are all ancillary to the main offence. Cannabis no longer outrages the public decency; capturing video of dying or deceased police officers while taunting and jeering at them is altogether another matter.
“Look at that, isn’t it amazing?” he says while holding the camera aloft, ignoring the pleas of bystanders who are attempting to save the lives of the officers:
“Look at that, man. You f**king c***s. I guess I’ll be getting a f**king Uber home, huh?”
“Disgraceful” and “reprehensible” were two descriptors used by County Court Judge Trevor Wraight, who sentenced Pusey in April of this year.
In a police interview soon after the accident, Pusey defended himself:
“The recordings shouldn’t be seen... as being derogatory and horrible... it sounds like it and it is, but that’s how shit comes out of my head. I’m highly offensive.”
So what we have, in case we didn’t know it before, is a man totally deranged, a case of interpersonal indifference and neurotic entanglement so intractable that we can only describe him as psychopathic.
A man ‘trapped by his own psychopathic ego,’ Silvester writes:
‘Richard Pusey... cannot escape from the fact that he is a contemptible human being who should and will be shunned by the decent. And that is worse than any gaol term.’
Except, in the case of a human so utterly lost to psychological illness, how can we expect him to feel anything beyond a very selfish annoyance at having to start his life again?
If Silvester is expecting the weight of guilt to come crashing down over Pusey, he’d best reconsider, because what we can glean from Pusey’s antics, especially his sporting a “fake news” mask and tongue-in-cheek “Get me Oprah” t-shirt as he exited the Ravenhall gates, is that remorse hardly seems relevant.
Rather, Pusey’s crime cuts to the quick in ways not entirely explicable. Even Silvester’s considered article seems caught in the liminal space between passion, practicality and justice. He takes pains to remind us of two key practical considerations. First, that Pusey didn’t commit manslaughter, nor murder, nor an act of negligence.
Secondly, he reiterates that cases like these underpin the reasons for appointing judges instead of electing them, for a judge swayed by popular opinion may have stretched the fabric of the law to tearing-point.
‘Most judges would have loved to have thrown the book at him, if there was a crime in the book that allowed it to be thrown.’
He’s right, soberingly, on both accounts. But it doesn’t seem to square anything; as is so often the case with legal proceedings, the moral revulsion of the crime cannot equate with the exigencies of the system. Indeed, the tragedy on the Eastern Freeway caught me in a kind of interstitial space, too. I was deeply affected but knew not why — reminiscent of how I responded to the news of the wall collapse on Swanston Street, or the murder of beloved Pellegrini’s proprietor Sisto Malaspina. My words left me, my heart dropped.
How can we move forward in a world where the names of the four police officers are unknown to us, while Pusey’s will live on in infamy? Indeed, how do we reckon with our own involvement in the case — the unfortunate fact that articles on Pusey vastly outnumber articles on the ice-addled truck driver Mohinder Singh and that public interest in Pusey’s fate has established its own sub-industry of coverage wherein the trauma of 22 April is perpetually re-enacted?
I used to think that figures of Pusey’s calibre didn’t exist in quaint old Melbourne, our little town by the bay, our land of milk and honey. I used to think that we were immune from villainy and psychopathy.
Then, one day, an innocent and beloved Melbourne figure under whose spell I had also fallen was stabbed on Bourke Street by an inconsequential wannabe Jihadist. A year and a half later, while consulting on how to deal with the Porsche 911 Coupé whose ill-seeming driver they’d just pulled over, a truck slammed into four police officers, killing them all.
As the sun set on 22 April, in my house just up the freeway by the Middleborough Road off-ramp, I heard a dwindling sound which I thought was the traffic slowing. Now I know it was a piece of Melbourne’s soul fading out into nothing, lost irretrievably.
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