IT’S a haunting photograph.
A little boy sits in the gutter dressed in an oversized blue forensics suit. He is barefoot and rests his head on one hand as he listens intently to the stranger sitting next to him.
The stranger — a Gold Coast detective — has just arrived at Upper Coomera, a quiet ordinary suburb that has suddenly become a major crime scene.
It was inside the child’s home the horror unfolded. His mother Renee Kuch, 39, and father Corey Croft, 37, had been stabbed to death more than 24 hours earlier by Ms Kuch’s ex-partner Christopher Carter, a former soldier.
Carter had gained custody of the pair’s two children, now aged 16 and 19, in 2015 and she began a relationship and had another child with Mr Croft.
The 39-year-old was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter this week by a Brisbane Supreme Court jury, the jury clearly believing his account that he killed the pair out of self-defence.
When he left their home that night, on January 20 2015, the only person still alive inside was the couple’s five-year-old son who had been asleep in his room when his parents were killed.
The boy woke to an unimaginable scene. His parents were dead. There was so much blood he is now traumatised by the colour red. He picked the knife from near his mum’s body and put it in the sink.
He then waited for help. But no one came.
PRAYERS FOR A ‘GUILTY’ VERDICT
The little boy’s grandmother Jo-Anne Kuch is angry.
She couldn’t sit through every day of the trial and wasn’t up to being there when it all came to an end late Thursday afternoon.
Her partner was in court to hear the jury foreman deliver the not guilty verdicts for the murders of her daughter and her partner.
“I couldn’t be there. I would have had a heart attack,” Ms Kuch told news.com.au from her Gold Coast home.
The things she heard during the trial devastated her. The trial process made her angry.
“I’m shattered, I’m so upset and angry. I felt like killing someone last night… It’s an injustice, an injustice in the legal system. It’s quite simple.”
Her partner Rod left the court when the verdicts were read. The two slipped out before the media frenzy that surrounded Mr Carter — who was about to walk out of court, a free man, for the first time in two years.
“It’s just horrendous, absolutely horrendous and heartbreaking.”
Ms Kuch and her family have endured a living hell in the two years since the stabbings.
“We’ve waited two years. It’s affected all of our lives, especially [the boy]. As I said to you, he’s developed ADHD, separation anxiety, he locks all the doors and windows at night.”
She is angry things were said in court about her daughter that she was unable to defend herself. The jury was told of binge drinking and affairs — accusations Ms Kuch rejects.
‘WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE COME AND HELP ME’
Ms Kuch is shattered most about the impact the killings are having on her grandson. He turned eight a week before the trial began.
“He’s OK at the moment. He wasn’t himself last weekend. We wanted to make a happy day at the park, he went swimming and on a boogie board but I could just tell he was affected.”
He lives with Ms Kuch’s sister and they are doing their best to give him a normal life, but they worry the emotional scars — not to mention what he saw and heard that night — will return to haunt him.
Ms Kuch can barely bring herself to look at the picture of him sitting in the gutter. His clothes had been replaced with the forensic suit given to him by officers who arrived within minutes of the 000 call.
More than 24 hours after the stabbings, Ms Kuch’s sister — with whom the boy now lives — went to the house after calls went unanswered.
She found the bodies and rescued the boy from the home.
“He said after, ‘Why didn’t someone come and help me.’ It’s just horrendous,” she said, detailing for the first time what the boy went through.
“He couldn’t get out of the house because Corey was [dead] at the front door. He thought they were playing tricks on him,” she sobbed.
He thinks he can remember shouting that night, but has never said what he saw or heard inside the home. But Ms Kuch said he recently remembered “seeing a man”.
The family has managed to keep the trial away from him so far. But they know he will one day learn the truth.
He saw a psychologist regularly who was helping him cope with the horror he’d seen. He hates the colour red because that’s all he saw when he woke up, but had made good progress recently.
“My sister got him into sport and everything he touches turns to gold. He’s a good runner, he plays soccer — he just tries everything. It’s just a sham that Renee and Corey aren’t here to see him grow up.”
INSIDE THE HOME
This trial was no whodunnit, no mystery. Mr Carter never denied stabbing the couple. The central question the jury members had to grapple with was whether prosecutors could prove he had the intention to murder them.
Ms Kuch was stabbed at least 10 times. The fatal blow was to her neck and was so severe it severed her spinal cord. Her partner had five stab wounds, all in the neck and head.
The trial heard Carter was made aware Croft had forced a 10-year-old girl to shower with him and that he was a convicted paedophile who had raped a child in South Australia.
Ms Kuch told news.com.au she “condemns paedophiles” but insists her daughter wasn’t aware of Mr Croft’s past until she was expecting his child.
“Renee didn’t know about his past. She had the child, but you still don’t kill paedophiles, you don’t have that right. [Corey] was a great father to [the boy] and he and Renee had a good relationship. Sometimes it wasn’t, but that’s just a normal relationship.”
During his closing address on Wednesday, Crown prosector Glen Cash QC argued Carter intended to kill Croft and Renee Kuch.
Former soldier Christopher Carter leaves the Brisbane Supreme Court after being found not guilty. Picture: AAP
“The intent was one he developed in the course of the interactions, not that he came there to kill,” he said.
But Mr Carter’s barrister David Brustman QC argued it was not murder but an “unforeseeable” event that was the result of years of tension and hostility between Mr Carter and Renee Kuch.
Mr Carter gave evidence at trial and told the jury he went to the home just to talk to his wife.
The Crown alleged he went there, a former soldier who knew how to kill, to commit murder.
After a heated argument at the doorway, the court heard Ms Kuch appeared with a knife and the two wrestled over it. He stabbed her several times, and then said he was attacked by Mr Croft.
“I was stabbing Corey. As we moved back into what was the doorway, Corey fell to the ground.
“I didn’t know where Renee had gone through that period. I’ve just stood up and started moving to the back of the house,” Carter said.
Corey Croft was a convicted child sex offender..
It was then he said Ms Kuch attacked him again
“I was in a state of shock, I couldn’t believe what happened. I stabbed her. I didn’t mean to do it. I pushed her down off me. The way she fell to the ground … it was essentially like she was unconscious and I’ve seen a pool of blood was coming from her head.”
He admitted he placed the knife in her hand.
“The only thing I remember thinking in my head was: ‘It’s your knife, you can have it back.’”
A MOTHER’S LOVE
Ms Kuch couldn’t listen to the graphic evidence. Few parents could. Each time the details of her daughter’s injuries were spoken in court, she broke down in tears.
She wants her daughter remembered in a different way to what she says are mistruths from the court case.
“She was a beautiful, caring mother who loved her children. She was well liked at work, she would do anything for anyone.”
She worked in aged care, but at one stage dreamt of a career in the police force. “She didn’t pass the physical though because of her asthma.”
Not guilty…Christopher Carter.
Now the trial was over Ms Kuch told news.com.au she could finally go ahead with plan to scatter her ashes. She has a spot in mind, a part of the Queensland coast that is special to the family.
“That’s where my brother’s ashes were spread. A lot of Renee’s friends will be there, they’re all married now with children.”
The date she has set is not going to be Renee’s birthday, but January 20. It will be three years since she was killed.
“That’s when we are going to do it; that’s when she was taken from us.”