YESTERDAY was to be Dr Heather Hunter's day in court except that more than two years after suffering shattering injuries when she was run off the road while cycling, she was simply too frail to attend.
In contrast, Paul Allan Miller, the man who put her in a wheelchair and stole the life she spent decades building, was there, having reluctantly agreed to plead guilty a decision based on self-interest rather than a sense of remorse.
And while there was never any doubt he was driving the utility that veered into her as she rode along a country road near Sale, what went on in his peculiar brain in the moments before impact will remain a dark secret.
Heather Hunter cannot assist, as she has no memory of the terrible incident. The super-fit doctor with a love for her husband, country medicine, outdoor activities and 1950s rock'n'roll dancing, suffered critical brain, spine and internal injuries. After an adult life spent caring for others, she now relies on others to care for her.
She has few memories of her past and holds little hope for the future.
What is known is that on October 10, 2009, as Dr Hunter headed home on her regular 60-kilometre bike ride, Miller, unlicensed and driving a stolen car, passed her heading in the opposite direction. He would have thought she was alone, unaware her husband, Dr John Jarman, was cycling the same stretch a few kilometres behind. As a faster rider, Dr Jarman always started 10 minutes later so he would catch her on the final stretch to reach home together.
Police say Miller drove past, then did a U-turn before (they believe) he hunted down the lone cyclist near Chinns Bridge. He smashed into her with the middle of the ute's bullbar.
Even though his victim was clearly critically injured, Miller first put her bike into the rear tray of the four-wheel-drive ute and had dragged her towards the car when he was spotted by another driver and ran off.
When he was finally arrested at gunpoint he told police the cyclist had veered into his path and he was going to take her to hospital but panicked when he saw the other car.
Yesterday's hearing in the Latrobe County Court in Morwell was as much about what couldn't be said as what could. The law is rightly about evidence and sometimes the truth by necessity falls victim to the rules of admissibility.
Investigators say (but cannot prove) that this was an attempted abduction and the car was used as a weapon to immobilise the victim. They believe he meant to stun rather than cripple her.
This conclusion has two foundations. First, there were no signs he tried to avoid the collision. Consider these facts: He changed direction to follow her, was travelling at only 64km/h in a 100 zone, veered left towards her with his front wheels off the road, and did not brake until after impact. And this despite police evidence that a motorist should have been able to see a cyclist from 500 metres on that road.
The second is that he is a notorious, impulsive and repeat sex offender who was on the run at the time.
Initially Heather Hunter's case looked like one to be processed in the judicial sausage machine, where justice can be sacrificed to expediency. The first deal put on the table was that Miller should plead guilty to failing to stop after an accident, failure to render assistance, and theft.
Then something strange happened. The good guys fought back. Investigators from the major collision investigation unit, including Leading Senior Constables Shane Miles and Jenelle Mehegan, continued to dig, visiting the scene at least 15 times, while senior lawyers from the Office of Public Prosecutions reviewed the case.
Soon the sweet deal was withdrawn, with the charges upgraded to include negligently causing serious injury, failure to render assistance and theft, each with a maximum penalty of 10 years.
The seriousness of the case is clearly illustrated by who turned up yesterday to prosecute. Normally charges from a non-fatal road "accident" would be prosecuted by a circuit lawyer, but this time the Office of Public Prosecutions brought out its biggest gun, chief Crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert, SC.
Silbert is smart, tough and an advocate of heavy sentences. He also does his best work when there is a little blood in the water.
But Silbert couldn't raise Miller's sex offences in the context of what happened to Heather Hunter, nor suggest this was an attempted abduction. He could not say that just weeks after Miller is released from prison he usually reoffends.
The court was not told that Miller was given a confidential psychosexual test and the results were "off the scale" worse than any Victorian serial sex offender.
While investigators believe he meant to hit Dr Hunter, the evidence proves only that he acted negligently. Suggestions that it was a deliberate act could not be raised.
So it became a case of join the dots. The big-city prosecutor used forensic details of skid marks, momentum and reaction times on this gun-barrel-straight country road to carefully deconstruct Miller's version of events.
"All of this is wholly inconsistent with the accused's account of the collision," he said. "Further, there is no explanation consistent with the physical evidence as to why the accused was steering left prior to impact.
"The tyre marks indicated that the accused steered left for an unknown reason, his passenger wheel rolling for a brief period off the road, before he applied heavy braking, which caused the vehicle to skid. Having come to a halt, the accused then drove the vehicle back onto the roadway. The accused then reversed (and) stopped so that the passenger doors were near Dr Hunter."
In other words, he bloody well meant to do it, although I can't say that out loud.
County Court judge Michael Tinney, an experienced lawyer elevated to the bench nearly two years ago, listened carefully to Silbert and Miller's lawyer Shane Kennedy.
Throughout the four-hour hearing he examined photos and asked a series of probing questions.
The prosecution recommended a jail term at the upper end of eight years with a minimum of five. The defence argued this was excessive.
Judge Tinney's judgments so far show he is not frightened to wield the big stick when required.
Kennedy had a tough time arguing for his client a simple man with dark hair and a beard, who sat expressionless in the dock as his future was discussed.
Kennedy said Miller "felt rotten" about what he had done and had a "heavy heart".
The lawyer said the accused had "increasingly worrying psychosexual problems."
Judge Tinney appeared unimpressed at times, saying he "strongly disagreed" with parts of the defence submission.
He said he hoped to sentence Miller next Friday.
Heather Hunter is much loved, so much so that 58 people compiled victim impact statements for the court to express their loss.
But without doubt the most powerful words came from John Jarman and his wife in their statements.
At first Dr Jarman tries to explain the medical issues surrounding his wife's battles, how only her fitness saved her from dying, of her six months in the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Kew before her eventual transfer to a Sale aged-care facility.
"As a GP, I thought I understood what it meant and how it was for the disabled and for the carer. How wrong I was. I had a lot to learn . . .
"Dr Hunter is still depressed and many times I've seen her when she has been weeping overnight because she knows there is something wrong with her. She sometimes thinks she has dementia, or cancer or going mad. She needs constant reminding that she had an accident and that she has a brain injury and other injuries as a result."
He visits her three or four times a day and recalled that once when he rang to say goodnight she said, "I just wait till I fall asleep and hope that when I wake up everything will be better".
He asked, "What will be better?"
"That my nails will be shiny. That I will be able to put on my lipstick and look pretty again, that I will have freedom."
"To do what?"
"To go cycling."
Another time she confessed, "I have so much pain in my head. Being like this is awful. I just want to die. I just want to go outside and drop dead. It must be hard for you to see me like this. I worry that you might not came back and see me and I can understand why."
On a later visit she said, "I have become depressed, I can't show people how to dance, and I can't ride, walk or run or do my exercises or even remember what they were or how to do them.
"And I feel angry, I feel sad, I feel hopeless and helpless and I worry how I will live and how I can do my housework and cook and be the housewife and be the doctor and how I will financially survive.
"My functional life is over and now I just live from one day to the next."
Dr Jarman addresses his own loss. He rejoices at any signs of improvement but knows the future is unbearably bleak.
"Do any of these little advances which collectively add up to be all so promising, dilute my anger and rage at what has happened to Heather? No.
"Will they make it easier for me to just accept what has happened as a simple accident? No. No it will not.
"Will they take away my pain and sorrow for what I have lost with my wife and what we were to do in our future and in our retirement and elder years? Very much no.
"Have we returned to some sense of life as it once was? No. Will it ever be 'back to normal'? Hell no.
"The years we have left with each other will be managed, not lived. For example, there will always be the pain and suffering, the increasing physical difficulties I will face in looking after a disabled wife as I get older, the planning and extra time taken . . . to just go down the street or visit the doctor.
"There will be the constant stream of contact with bureaucracy and organisations and changing staff with the fluctuating whims, rules and regulations that will ultimately impinge on us more harshly than if we were a completely normal, independent couple.
"In colourful Australian language, our future 'is stuffed'."
Paul Miller will soon be sentenced over the charges he faces but not for the real crime he committed.
One day he will be freed. But Heather Hunter and John Jarman will never be released from the prison Miller built for them.