NON-LEAGUE footballer Karl Wayte has been cleared of murder following a nine-day trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
The 24-year-old Stretton Eagles striker, of Greenwood Road, Stapenhill — who previously played for Gresley Rovers and the Burton Albion development squad — was also found not guilty of manslaughter.
He had faced the charges following the death of 29- year-old Toyota worker Richard Ziemacki, of Chaddesden, on October 16 last year in Derby.
Co-accused Thomas Short, 25, of Lyndham Avenue, Stapenhill, was cleared of assault occasioning actual bodily harm on Sarah Garbett during the same incident.
The jury of seven women and five men delivered its verdicts to a packed courtroom after deliberating for more than seven-and-a-half hours.
Wayte and Short were asked to stand before the foreman said the jury had reached verdicts on which 10 of them agreed — the minimum required under law for a majority verdict.
As she answered ‘not guilty’ to each charge, gasps could be heard from the public gallery which reflected two very different emotions — smiles from relatives of Wayte and Short and tears from the family and friends of Mr Ziemacki.
After Judge Jonathan Teare ordered the defendants to be released from the dock, Wayte and Short stood and left, clearly overwhelmed by relief.
“British justice has been shown to be right because Karl did tell the truth,” said his father, John, 58, speaking shortly after the verdicts.
“He is so relieved. The colour has come back in his face and he’s back to his normal self. He said all along ‘I’m innocent, I stood up for myself’.
“He did not mean to cause Mr Ziemacki any damage and still maintains he did not hit him that hard. He did it to protect himself.”
Mr Wayte senior, a former Burton Albion goalkeeper, said the past nine months had been ‘absolutely horrendous’ and had seen his son’s life ‘put on hold’.
Wayte, the subject to a catalogue of bail conditions restricting his movements, had been so ill he had been prescribed tablets to calm his nerves.
But he had survived with help from his family and friends and now had the chance to get his life back on track and return to work as a gas fitter.
“It will be difficult to start with, but once he gets used to the fact he can go out again, go on holiday and go to work — once he gets back into the routine — I think he will be okay,” said Mr Wayte.
He said his son was ‘so remorseful’ about Mr Ziemacki’s fate and would be forced to live with it for the rest of his life.
When asked if his son had learned any lessons from the case, Mr Wayte said his son had said: “I shan’t be going clubbing and I shan’t be getting involved in other people’s arguments.”
Short left the court without making any comment.
How an innocent night on the town ended in tragedy
THE way the night began could hardly have been more different from the way it ended.
Karl Wayte and Thomas Short went to The Sump, in Newton Road, Winshill, to say ‘goodbye’ to a friend, Sam Bailey, who was planning to spend two months in Australia.
Just a few miles away at The Peregrine, in Derby, Richard Ziemacki was also enjoying a drink.
The three men’s paths crossed hours later outside Greggs bakery in Derby city centre.
Wayte had downed nine pints, Short seven pints and a short, and Mr Ziemacki was more than three times over the drink-drive limit.
So far, they’d had a good night. But tragedy was only minutes away.
Friendly banter between their respective groups of friends soon got out of hand, with insults traded freely.
As tempers frayed, Short and Mr Ziemacki squared up, Wayte intervening in a bid to keep them apart.
He succeeded, but only for Mr Ziemacki to throw his slice of pizza to the floor and threaten to take his rivals on, the biggest — Karl Wayte — first.
Fearing attack, Wayte made a splitsecond decision to throw a punch of his own, catching Mr Ziemacki in the face and fracturing his right eye socket.
The victim staggered and fell back, smashing his skull on the pavement.
It was just after 3.15am on Sunday, October 16. Barely an hour later, Mr Ziemacki was pronounced dead.
As Short was pushed away from the fracas by Greggs door supervisor Nicholas Dudley, he was approached at speed by an angry Sarah Garbett, shoes in hand.
Short reacted instinctively by throwing a punch to keep her at bay, felling his target just as Wayte had done Mr Ziemacki.
Wayte, who was said to be ‘mortified’ when he learned his target had died, was arrested and later charged with murder, while Short was accused of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
For the charges to stick, the prosecution had to convince the jury that Wayte and Short had not acted in reasonable self defence.
Witnesses Melody Eardley and Lorna Steele appeared to support its case.
Wayte’s blow was the hardest she had ever seen, said Ms Eardley, while Miss Steele maintained that the aggressor had appeared to ‘put all his effort into it’.
But the jury was not convinced.
Mr Dudley, following a grilling by Wayte’s barrister, Barry Grennan, said Mr Ziemacki had acted aggressively, evidence corroborated by Wayte’s friend, Thomas Marriott.
“The nature of this incident and the fact that there was only one punch suggests heavily that he only did what he reasonably thought was necessary,” Mr Grennan said.
The jury agreed and Wayte was vindicated. Short followed.
But they, perhaps more than anyone else, know there are no winners from any of this.
One man has died while the lives of two others have been marked forever.
Detectives say ‘thoughts are with the family of the deceased’
DETECTIVES from Derbyshire Police reacted to the Karl Wayte murder trial verdicts by saying their thoughts remained with the family of the deceased, Richard Ziemacki.
Detective Inspector Paul Callum, who leads a unit which forms part of the East Midlands Major Crime Team, spoke after the jury cleared Wayte of both murder and manslaughter, and also acquitted his friend, Thomas Short, of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
“The thoughts of Derbyshire Police are with the parents of Richard Ziemacki and his family,” said DI Callum.
The prosecutions of Wayte and Short were the result of an inquiry, named Operation Medlock, which Det Insp Callum suggested had not been straightforward.
“These investigations are always difficult and because of that are often left for a jury to decide,” he said.
“On this occasion, the jury has reached a verdict of ‘not guilty’.” However, he said the investigation had touched on a familiar problem.
“This case does highlight the problems associated with the night-time economy and alcohol.”