A man accused of torturing his Whorouly neighbour Karen Chetcuti Verbunt and burning her alive does not want to face a murder trial in the North East.
Michael Cardamone, 49, has pleaded not guilty to the January 2016 murder of the Whorouly mother-of-two and will face trial from July 31 this year.
But at a Supreme Court directions hearing in Melbourne on Friday, his barrister Patrick Tehan QC signalled an application to move the trial from Wangaratta to Melbourne.
Mr Tehan told Justice Lex Lasry that Ms Chetcuti Verbunt was a well-known citizen of their community and worked for Wangaratta Council.
“There is a great deal of prejudice in this case,” Mr Tehan said.
The barrister also cited Senator Derryn Hinch’s campaign over family violence as another reason why the case should not be heard in Wangaratta.
Justice Lasry said publicity over the case was as widespread in Melbourne as in Wangaratta, but the application will be heard in the Supreme Court on March 31.
Prosecutors say they will fight the move.
Cardamone was also seeking Legal Aid assistance for the trial, the court was told.
Police allege Cardamone killed Ms Chetcuti Verbunt after sedating her with an animal tranquilliser and tying her wrists with cable ties, duct tape and rope.
He then allegedly gagged her, burnt her alive, and drove over her body.
Ms Chetcuti Verbunt was reported missing after failing to turn up to her job at the Wangaratta Council.
Her body was found in bushland near Lake Buffalo several days after the discovery of her burnt-out car.
Forensic pathologist Malcolm Dodd told a committal hearing in Wangaratta Magistrates’ Court last week the time of death could have been any point over the few days before the body was discovered.
He had not been expecting the results of the CAT scan in the case of a burned body found in the bush.
“I immediately saw a variety of fractures,” Mr Dodd said.
“The fractures looks very much like a motor vehicle accident.”
He said fractures to the pelvis and ribs were consistent with the body being run over after death.
But the skull fracture was inflicted while Ms Chetcuti Verbunt was alive and could have been life-threatening itself.
Mr Dodd said there was no evidence of sexual assault.
Mr Cardamone will face trial from July 31 to September 8, either in Wangaratta or Melbourne.
He has pleaded not guilty, instead pointing the finger at an acquaintance police say helped him destroy Ms Chetcuti Verbunt’s car.