A former bikie boss has escaped time behind bars for weapons offences following a naked shootout in which he lost part of a finger.
Peter Zdravkovic, 38, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Thursday by a judge who believes the former Canberra Comanchero commander can turn his back on crime.
Zdravkovic was found guilty by a jury last week of possessing a rifle and bladed knuckledusters without authorisation on June 30, 2018.
The ACT Supreme Court heard during his trial that police seized the weapons during a search of Zdravkovic’s Calwell home that day, less than 48 hours after four masked intruders had attacked him there.
CCTV of the attack shows the assailants setting fire to three cars and shooting at Zdravkovic, who took a bullet to the left hand.
Zdravkovic returned fire with a Sako .270 bolt action rifle, having run naked from the shower to confront the attackers.
While he never faced charges for using the gun to defend himself, Zdravkovic was indicted for possessing the rifle and knuckledusters in the aftermath.
His barrister, Jason Moffett, planned to argue that Zdravkovic should be acquitted because it was reasonable for him to have kept those items in self-defence.
The jury heard evidence that Zdravkovic had been embroiled in a bitter feud that led to him leaving the Comancheros and burning his gang colours in what Justice David Mossop called a “provocative” move.
During a subsequent “fight” with disguised intruders at his home in March 2018, a bullet grazed Zdravkovic’s head. Similarly masked men then carried out the June 2018 attack.
But Justice Mossop ruled mid-trial that self-defence could not be presented to the jury as potential grounds for acquittal.
At Zdravkovic’s sentencing on Thursday, the judge revealed his reasons for that decision, saying only an immediate threat could reasonably justify possession of the weapons.
“In the present case, there was clear evidence upon which the jury might have relied to support a finding that there was an ongoing potential threat of serious harm. The evidence does not establish that it had abated,” Justice Mossop said.
“However, there was no imminence to it. At the time of possession on June 30, 2018, there was no evidence of any immediate threat to which the accused was responding.”
Mr Moffett urged Justice Mossop to let the 38-year-old off with community service and no conviction on the rifle possession charge.
He pointed out that the gun had been stored in a roof cavity, rather than somewhere publicly accessible or “on the kitchen table” where it might have posed a danger to the former bikie boss’s partner and young son.
There was also no evidence, Mr Moffett argued, that Zdravkovic had intended to use it for anything other than to defend himself.
Mr Moffett said it appeared Zdravkovic had preferred to arm himself against threats rather than go to the police because “colloquially, snitches get stitches”.
Turning to the bladed knuckledusters, the barrister said a conviction was inevitable, but Zdravkovic considered them “ceremonial or a collector’s item” rather than something to do damage with.
Crown prosecutor Patrick Dixon argued against any non-conviction order, pointing to Zdravkovic’s substantial criminal history, which has included time in jail for insurance fraud and drug offences.
Mr Dixon said the threshold for a jail sentence had been met in respect of both charges.
In sentencing, Justice Mossop considered a number of character references written on behalf of Zdravkovic.
He said they gave great insight into why Zdravkovic, who endured “corporal punishment” at the hands of his father as a child, had been drawn into the bikie world.
They also demonstrated how Zdravkovic’s partner and young son had helped steer him away from that lifestyle.
Justice Mossop said with Zdravkovic appearing to have left “the destructive culture” of outlaw gangs behind, it was in the long-term interests of the community for him to have the chance “to establish himself as a law-abiding citizen”.
He said Zdravkovic seemed to have “better than reasonable prospects” of doing so, with his young family and concreting business giving him a purpose in life.
The judge convicted Zdravkovic on both charges, plus a transfer charge of unauthorised ammunition possession.
He sentenced Zdravkovic to nine months in jail, suspended immediately in favour of a two-and-a-half-year good behaviour order.
Justice Mossop also directed the 38-year-old to complete 100 hours of community service, and fined him $2500.