Charlise Mutten murder trial: Justin Stein had “strange” encounter with neighbour, jury told

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The neighbour of Justin Stein has told a jury of the moment he found the alleged murderer facedown in dirt near their properties, in an encounter he described as “strange”.

Justin Stein, 33, is facing a trial in the NSW Supreme Court at Parramatta after pleading not guilty to murder, but has admitted to disposing of the schoolgirl’s body.

He is accused of murdering Charlise, who was the daughter of his former partner Kallista Mutten, at a property owned by his parents before dumping her body, which was concealed in a plastic barrel, near the Colo River area.

The girl was visiting her mother and Mr Stein during the school holidays, and spent her time in NSW split between Mr Stein’s family property at Mount Wilson, where she was allegedly shot and killed, and at a caravan park named the Riviera Ski Gardens in Lower Portland, about 1.5 hours away.

Neighbour of the Mount Wilson property Tony Hutt told the jury on Wednesday of an encounter he had with Mr Stein a month before Charlise went missing.

He described the encounter as “strange”, telling the jury he was walking through the bushland at the back of their neighbouring properties in December 2021.

Mr Hutt told the jury he was walking through the bush looking for stones when his dog ran up ahead of him.

After following the dog, Mr Hutt told the jury he found Mr Stein lying face down in a “culvert” or dip in the ground.

“I observed he was trying to hide from me but I couldn’t say that for sure … the way he was lying down,” Mr Hutt said.

Mr Hutt told the court he asked what Mr Stein was doing, to which he replied: “Digging for treasure.”

He told the jury he saw a “spade or shovel” as well as a “bag or a case” but couldn’t categorically say.

“He said ‘please don’t tell anyone’ … I agreed to it because I thought it was weird but I didn’t think it was dangerous,” Mr Hutt said.

The jury previously heard police found items buried in the vicinity of that same area, which had been stolen from a nearby Mount Wilson property by Ms Mutten and Mr Stein in August 2021.

Mr Hutt told the court he had met Charlise in the weeks before her death.

He had attended a dinner at the Stein’s house while Charlise was visiting and experienced Ms Mutten’s relationship with her daughter.

Asked how he would describe their relationship, he said it was “exceptional”.

The jury heard the barrel with Charlise’s body was found on January 18, 2022, after police went to the location after going through Mr Stein’s phone.

Former NSW Police crime scene officer Mitchell James told the jury Charlise’s body was head down in the barrel in the foetal position.

She was “bound” in a number of bloodstained wrappings and black garbage bags, the court heard.

A black plastic bag was also found in the barrel containing vegetation and soil, which had apparent blood staining, Mr James told the court.

“The body was found in a decomposed state … a regular bullet wound was into her right cheek … it struck and dislodged a tooth,” Mr James said.

The gunshot had travelled into her head and was lodged into the skull, with lead bullet fragments recovered from her head, the jury was told.

Mr James told the court she also had a gunshot wound on her lower left back near the hip area.

The second bullet at perforated the pelvic bone, he told the jury.

Prosecutors allege Charlise travelled to Mount Wilson from the caravan park alone with Mr Stein on the evening of January 11, 2022, while Ms Mutten stayed behind.

Mr McKay alleges Mr Stein was the “last person” to see Charlise and had the opportunity to her between 7.16pm on January 11 and 10.06am on January 12.

Charlise’s body was found in a barrel on an embankment near the Colo River four days after her mother reported her missing.

After his arrest in January 2022, Mr Stein denied killing Charlise in an interview with a Corrective Services officer but said “her mum shot her twice”, the jury heard.

“Her mum was on ice all week, I heard a shot and then I heard her screaming out for me, then I ran back and she shot her again,” he told the prison guard, the jury heard.

A toxicology report showed Charlise had tested positive for Mr Stein’s schizophrenia medication.

The trial continues before Justice Helen Wilson.

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