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Outback Wrangler Matt Wright hires heavy-hitting silk to avoid Supreme Court showdown over fatal chopper crash

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Kristin Shorten
The Nightly
The widow of Netflix star Chris Wilson has moved to freeze Outback Wrangler Matt Wright’s assets and sue him personally over the fatal Northern Territory chopper crash that killed her husband.
The widow of Netflix star Chris Wilson has moved to freeze Outback Wrangler Matt Wright’s assets and sue him personally over the fatal Northern Territory chopper crash that killed her husband. Credit: The West Australian

Outback Wrangler host Matt Wright has hired the heavy-hitting Adelaide silk who defended Zachary Rolfe, in an eleventh-hour bid to avoid a protracted public trial over the fatal chopper crash that killed his Netflix co-star Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson.

More than six months after Wright’s most serious criminal charge of perverting the course of justice – which carries a 15-year jail sentence – was committed to the Northern Territory Supreme Court, the celebrity croc-wrangler has engaged two new barristers.

During his most recent criminal callover listing in Darwin, one of those barristers – Frank Merenda from Francis Burt Chambers in Perth – indicated his client was trying to negotiate a plea deal.

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Up until recently, Wright had been represented by Sydney-based barrister Greg Jones but Mr Merenda this month told the court he was taking advice from David Edwardson KC.

Mr Edwardson successfully represented former NT police officer Zachary Rolfe when he was charged with murder over the shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker during an arrest at Yuendumu.

Mr Merenda also represented Mr Rolfe at Walker’s coronial inquest.

The court heard Wright’s new legal counsel is trying to reach an agreement with the Director of Public Prosecutions to avoid their high-profile client facing a lengthy Supreme Court trial.

“I have conferred with (senior crown prosecutor Steve) Ledek who has primary carriage of this matter on behalf of the director’s office,” Mr Merenda told the court last week.

“I think the joint position is we’re attempting to resolve a number of matters before a decision is made in terms of how a plea will resolve.

“What’s been discussed since January is a question of particulars with a view to discussing the possibility of a negotiated plea.

“We’ve received information from the director. I’ve engaged with Mr Edwardson KC to give advice in relation to those matters, which is why we’re ultimately seeking four weeks to resolve those issues.”

During the six-minute mention, Judge Vincent Luppino said he was “a little bit confused” about what the parties were negotiating.

“What I’m trying to find out is, is there any possibility that the matter will be a plea?” he asked.

Crown Prosecutor Rebecca Everitt confirmed that the next mention might involve a plea.

“Yes, your honour,” she said.

Outback Wrangler Matt Wright and pilot Michael Burbidge were charged in relation to the investigation into the fatal Northern Territory chopper crash that killed Chris Wilson in February 2022.
Outback Wrangler Matt Wright and pilot Michael Burbidge were charged over the fatal Northern Territory chopper crash that killed Chris Wilson in February 2022. Credit: Unknown/Facebook

“The parties need time to settle their position as to whether it will be a plea, a disputed facts (hearing) or heading for a trial.”

Wilson – who starred alongside Wright in reality television shows including Outback Wrangler and Wild Croc Territory – was slinging beneath a helicopter when it crashed during a crocodile egg-collecting mission at West Arnhem Land in February 2022.

The destroyed Robinson R44 Raven II, registered VH-IDW, was owned and operated by Wright’s company Helibrook.

Pilot Sebastian Robinson was critically injured and is now paraplegic.

Wright’s charge of perverting the course of justice relates to his alleged actions after the helicopter crash, which occurred soon after taking off from a clearing on the King River.

Judge Luppino adjourned Wright’s matter until August 1 and listed it on the Supreme Court’s “super call over” list.

Wright’s bail was enlarged and he is not required to attend the next mention if legally represented.

The 44-year-old declined to comment on his decision to change legal teams at this late stage in proceedings.

Meanwhile, former NT police officer Neil Mellon, who pleaded guilty to destroying Wilson’s mobile phone after his death, will be sentenced on July 9.

And Mellon’s co-accused, Michael Burbidge, will return to the Supreme Court on July 5 for a one-day hearing after the DPP launched an appeal of his sentence.

In March, Deputy Chief Judge Fong Lim sentenced Burbidge with a conviction and $15,000 fine for destroying Wilson’s mobile phone after his death “with the intent to prevent it from being used in evidence in judicial proceedings”.

The DPP is appealing “against the whole of the sentence” on the ground that it was “manifestly inadequate in all the circumstances”.

“The appellant seeks orders that … the sentence imposed by the Local Court on 8 March 2024 be quashed, and that a new sentence be imposed on the respondent according to law,” the appeal notice states.

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