Will we ever know how Karen Ristevski died?
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Will we ever know how Karen Ristevski died?

Karen Ristevski and Borce Ristevski

Karen Ristevski and Borce Ristevski

Borce Ristevski has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Karen Ristevski, but he may never reveal how he killed his wife, and he won't have to. Ahead of his plea hearing on March 27, we explain what comes next.

So what happens now?

Ristevski didn’t give an account to prosecutors as part of the manslaughter plea on Wednesday. And he doesn’t have to as the court cannot compel him to take the stand and talk.

“The essential right to silence that exists is one of the benefits of freedom and also a cost of freedom,” former chief magistrate Nick Papas, QC, said.

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“He might harm his position if he were to give evidence and he certainly can’t be interviewed without his consent.”

Former criminal lawyer Colin Lovitt, QC, said he would be surprised if Ristevski’s lawyer, David Hallowes, SC, presented a version.

“I would be surprised, tactically, if we heard from a defence on a plea given the state of the evidence as I understand it,” Mr Lovitt said.

Could he take the stand?

It’s highly unlikely Ristevski would take the stand as, in the face of intense cross-examination from chief crown prosecutor Brendan Kissane, he could come across worse.

“It’s better to have a court or the public speculate rather than you be forced to give an account that can be picked apart,” another lawyer said.

He could give instructions to his lawyer, and his lawyer would then tell the court during the plea hearing what his client said happened to Karen.

Karen Ristevski with her husband, Borce, and daughter, Sarah.

Karen Ristevski with her husband, Borce, and daughter, Sarah.

But does the judge have to believe it?

It may be difficult for prosecutors to rebut what Ristevski says as there is no cause of death to prove otherwise.

“But that doesn’t mean the judge has to accept it,” Mr Papas said.

Another lawyer said Ristevski’s version could never be relied on, considering how his many lies after Karen's death.

“If he gave a version, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.

“The judge will dismiss it as unlikely or untrue or a desperate attempt to minimise his own involvement.”

Borce Ristevski arrives at court on the day he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Borce Ristevski arrives at court on the day he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.Credit:AAP

Can a judge sentence without knowing how she died?

Short answer, yes, and it will be a difficult sentence for the judge. The agreed set of facts presented could say Ristevski killed his wife, but not how.

There is a long line of authorities that tells a judge it is not up to them to pick apart the set of facts agreed on by the defence and prosecution. If there are gaps or holes in it – namely, not knowing a cause of death – then so be it.

So what length of sentence will Ristevski get?

It’s hard to say what the sentence will be. The average manslaughter sentence is about seven years, but this case could be considered as one of the most serious examples of the crime.

The most aggravating factor is that Ristevski dumped her body, hid it in the bush and did not tell police where it was.

"It's a gross aggravation," one lawyer said.

There were also the lies he told to police and family afterwards – including withholding that he drove his wife's car then admitting he did, then changing his story about why he drove it that day.

His conduct to cover-up his crime did not prove intent to murder, as Justice Christopher Beale found this week, but this conduct could contribute to a higher sentence.

Tammy Mills is a Crime Reporter for The Age.

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