What did Rodney Miller say? Murder trial turns to dying officer’s last words

Senior Constable Rodney Miller was distressed and dying, but could still talk. What he told the colleagues who comforted him is now the focus of a murder trial more than two decades on.

It was after midnight on August 16, 1998, and police units in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs got to Moorabbin as quickly as they could after hearing over the radio a report of gunshots and that officers were down.

Sergeant Gary Silk (left) and Senior Constable Rodney Miller.

Police who arrived in Cochranes Road saw Sergeant Gary Silk was dead and began searching for his missing partner. Moments later, there was a cry of help, and officers ran along Warrigal Road, where they found Miller wounded and thrashing his arms after he made his way to the driveway outside the Silky Emperor Chinese restaurant.

Silk and Miller were on a stake-out watching the restaurant as police investigated a series of armed robberies over the preceding months. After midnight, they saw a car leave the restaurant car park and followed it to Cochranes Road, where they activated a blue flashing light on their unmarked sedan to pull over the suspect vehicle.

Two colleagues who drove past to observe said they thought the interception looked routine, but moments later Silk and Miller were shot.

The central question a Victorian Supreme Court jury must answer is whether there were two people in the intercepted car or just the driver.

Jason Roberts (right) outside the Supreme Court.Credit:Jason South

Prosecutors allege Jason Roberts, then 17, was with Bandali Debs when the shots were fired, and that both were responsible for the murders. Miller died in hospital.

Roberts, now 41, admits he and Debs carried out 10 hold-ups in 1998. But he argues he wasn’t in Moorabbin when the shootings happened and has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder.

For over a week, past and present police officers who were with the fatally injured Miller have given evidence, and told the trial he made references to two offenders.

But several of the police witnesses acknowledged what they said they heard wasn’t recorded in written notes or statements taken afterwards.

Sergeant Helen Poke, then a senior constable who cradled Miller in her lap, said he repeated, “I’m f—ed, I’m f—ed, get them, two offenders, one on foot, six foot, checked shirt, dark Hyundai.”

“He just kept repeating it until we got him in the ambulance,” she said.

Under cross-examination, Poke agreed the word “offenders” was not in her notes, and said she was told by a detective at the time to leave Miller’s description out of her statement.

By the time she made her statement, in 2000, the word “offenders” wasn’t there.

Former police officer Colin Clarke, then a senior constable, told the trial he heard Miller being asked by an officer, “How many were there?”

“My recollection of what he said was, ‘Two. Two, one on foot,’” Clarke said.

But those words were not in Clarke’s notes or statements, the trial heard.

Clarke said that at the time, he got on the police radio and reported “two offenders, two on foot”, which he told the trial was a mistake attributable to the “chaos of the situation”.

Later, he was asked by defence barrister David Hallowes, SC, if he was mistaken about the precise words he heard. “Possibly,” he replied.

Clarke said he argued with the detective who took his statement over its contents, and admitted he lied at previous hearings about how he gave his statement. He told the trial he previously gave untruthful evidence because he didn’t want to make the detective’s work look untidy.

Justice Stephen Kaye has told the jury Debs and Roberts were convicted of the murders in 2002, but the Court of Appeal granted Roberts a retrial.

On Tuesday, former police officer Michael Steendam said he was nearby the dying Miller who said “Make sure you get those c—s” as he was being loaded into an ambulance.

Steendam said he told a homicide detective what he heard but was never asked to make a statement. He said he didn’t make a written note of the comment, but said he was sure of what he heard.

“I can tell you I will never forget what he said to me,” he said.

Another former officer, Graham Thwaites, said he heard Miller say “get them c—s”, but acknowledged that remark wasn’t in his later statement.

Asked if he could have been mistaken about what he heard, Thwaites said: “‘Get them c—s.’ It’s going to haunt me until my death.”

The trial continues.

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