Illawarra Mercury

Revealed: murdered Lake Heights man's drug past

Date: 15/10/2011
Words: 917
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: News
Page: 7
MURDER victim Saso Ristevski was an intelligent man with a crippling drug addiction who spent more than half a decade behind bars for trafficking drugs.

The Lake Heights university graduate, who was gunned down in his Barina Ave home last month, was jailed for 6? years in 2005 for supplying cocaine worth an estimated $82,000.

During sentencing proceedings, he admitted to being a long-time drug abuser with a spiralling debt, owing money to dealers shortly before he was jailed.

The 37-year-old had been out on parole for just over a year when an argument with three unknown men turned violent.

He was shot in front of his parents on September 28, dying as the three men fled.

Police have refused to be drawn on whether drugs were involved in Ristevski's murder but it is clear from his criminal history, illicit substances were a long-term problem in his life.

The Mercury first reported on Ristevski in 1998 when he was charged with supplying drugs after police allegedly found ecstasy, cannabis and amphetamines in his car.

Ristevski was arrested and refused bail on September 4, 1997 - just 12 months after the academic 23-year-old obtained a Bachelor of Commerce with merit at the University of Wollongong.

When the supply case came before the court in February 1998, the Crown claimed police had discovered a trafficable amount of drugs in Ristevski's car when he was stopped for running a red light.

Despite lengthy deliberations, the trial jury could not reach a verdict and Ristevski was later acquitted of all charges, following a judicial finding of insufficient evidence.

But he did not walk away a free man - he served six months' jail for escaping police custody after pleading guilty to fleeing a police car and hiding under a house.

At the end of his sentence, Ristevski said he was looking forward to getting his life in order but it wasn't long before he was back behind bars, serving time in 2000 for another supply charge.

This time, it was cannabis. Ristevski was sentenced to a minimum five months' jail after he was caught housing marijuana leaves in the boot of a car parked in the backyard of his parents' home.

Ristevski fronted court in 2003 to answer another drug charge, facing claims he was the owner of a bag containing an estimated $18,000 worth of cannabis, but a DNA bungle cleared him.

His freedom didn't last long.

He was busted again in January 2004 for helping to transport a half-kilo stash of cocaine between Sydney and Wollongong.

A jury found the 30-year-old guilty of supplying the drugs, despite the convicted dealer's claims he was unaware of the quantity in his possession.

At his sentencing, Judge Deborah Payne told the Downing Centre District Court that Ristevski's behaviour involved "considerable criminal culpability" as he had played a critical role in the deal.

While the judge did not consider his drug debt sole motivation for his involvement in supplying drugs, she said it went some way to explaining it.

Ristevski had reported using large amounts of cocaine and the party drug ecstasy for several years before his arrest.

Ristevski, who pleaded not guilty to the offence, admitted to possessing the drug but was adamant he had been unaware of the quantity in his possession.

He told the jury that he had gone to Sydney with a man, who cannot be named, to transport the stash from Sydney to Wollongong on the other man's behalf.

Ristevski said he was then instructed to take the cocaine to Wollongong where it would be returned to the man and he would be paid $1000 for his involvement.

The jury rejected this theory, along with Judge Payne, who determined Ristevski had been involved in the transaction for "substantial financial gain".

She was satisfied Ristevski had organised the vehicle, had the money to purchase the drugs and had scales in his car that were used in the transaction.

She was also convinced Ristevski had taken possession of the 500.3g of cocaine with the purpose of supply and was leaving the city with it when he was arrested.

The court heard the cocaine was 83.5 per cent pure and could have been cut to a substantial extent, having considerable potential destructive force.

Judge Payne described Ristevski's offending as "deliberate", stating the amount of drugs involved and its purity were significant.

But she questioned Crown assertions that Ristevski was the intended owner of the drugs, provided he proffered the agreed amount - estimated between $62,500 and $82,500 - as there were doubts he could cough up that kind of money.

"There was no evidence he was leading an extravagant lifestyle or was a person who would have access to such a very large amount of cash," Judge Payne said.

Despite the seriousness of the charge, the judge believed Ristevski had good prospects of rehabilitation, noting his considerable family support - his sister and parents were a constant presence during the court proceedings - and the convicted man's academic achievements.

Two years into his term, Ristevski appealed the sentence, claiming the trial judge had failed to give directions of evidence of flight, but the appeal was dismissed.

This week, Detective Chief Inspector Michael McLean confirmed the investigation into Ristevski's death was ongoing.

So far, no-one has been charged over the shooting.

Insp McLean continued to refuse to comment on whether drugs were involved in the incident but police do not believe the attack was random.

Now, it is up to detectives to piece together who Ristevski's killer was and what ignited the confrontation that ultimately led to his death.

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