A man accused of stalking and killing Celeste Manno has refused to attend a court hearing, prompting the young woman’s mother to describe his decision as a “cowardly act”.
Luay Sako, 35, was charged with murder after allegedly breaking into Ms Manno’s bedroom window at her Mernda home while she was sleeping and stabbing her on November 17 last year. The former work colleague had allegedly been stalking Ms Manno in the year before her death.
He was due to face the Melbourne Magistrates Court for an online committal mention on Tuesday morning, but when prison officers went to get him they said he was refusing to attend.
Magistrate Donna Bakos said given Mr Sako was represented by his lawyer Sam Norton, she was prepared to proceed in his absence.
But Ms Manno’s mother Aggie Di Mauro, who had tuned remotely into the hearing, asked the magistrate why Mr Sako was not being forced to attend court.
“How come this is available?” she asked.
Ms Bakos replied: “When a person is charged with offences, they don’t have a choice about whether to attend court or not. But because this matter is being adjourned and because he is represented, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to have him dragged in cuffs into the room for the court to say to him, ‘You are remanded to appear on the next occasion.’ ”
Celeste Manno’s mother Aggie Di Mauro and brother Alessandro.Credit:Eddie Jim
Ms Di Mauro queried whether it would have been different if the hearing had been held in person and not online, but Ms Bakos said it was not due to the different court arrangements.
“From time to time, people charged with offences refuse to come up, even live in the courtroom,” she said. “The court … needs to make an assessment about whether it’s going to delay that matter and all matters after it in order to get prison officers to bring someone before the court.”
Ms Di Mauro responded: “You can imagine how I see this as a very cowardly act of him not to attend his own hearing.”
Ms Bakos said she understood. Earlier in the hearing, she acknowledged that there were friends and family of Ms Manno watching remotely, and explained why the matter was being adjourned again.
“This is again the second listing of a committal mention, that adjournment being necessitated because of the necessary assessment and reports that are to be obtained on behalf of the accused. I want to make that clear and give the explanation as to why the matter is not progressing beyond a committal mention at this stage,” she said.
The matter was adjourned to September 20 while reports and assessments are obtained by the defence.
Since Ms Manno’s death, her mother has been campaigning for reform to stalking legislation in Victoria. Her advocacy prompted the former attorney-general, Jill Hennessy, to order a review into stalking and harassment, which is being carried out by the Victorian Law Reform Commission. Submissions for the inquiry opened at the end of June.
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