This is the story of a man currently serving a 30 year sentence for murder, who was convicted largely on the basis of an inaccurate police transcript of an indistinct covert recording. STOP PRESS: Very sadly, the gentleman in question has recently died in prison, making this case study all the more poignant.
Late one night in 2005, an elderly man was found at his home in Sydney, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds. He died next day, and a murder investigation was opened.
After some time, suspicion fell on the man’s grandson.
At the trial, the prosecution produced evidence suggesting the father had financial and personal motives to kill the grandfather, as well as opportunity to plan the crime and to give his son assistance in committing it, including supply of a weapon.
When I was made aware of this case in 2011 (after the final appeal was rejected), I undertook a detailed analysis of the audio and of the police transcript.
Before reading my remarks, you might like to listen to the 1-minute excerpt again (remembering it is an excerpt from 38 minutes of similar material).
Unfortunately, while police, lawyers, juries and others are happy to accept scientific opinion that DNA or fingerprint evidence is inconclusive, when it comes to phonetic science, non-specialists feel they can reach a valid conclusion simply by ‘listening with their own ears’.
The defence lawyers explained to me that the only way forward, now that all avenues of appeal had been exhausted, was via an application to reopen the case, and initiate an inquiry into the conviction.
Famous ‘miscarriage of justice’ cases often feature a dramatic discovery of evidence showing that the convicted person couldn’t possibly have committed the crime. Unfortunately, in many cases of miscarriage of justice, actual proof of innocence is not available. This is one of those cases – due to the nature of the charges faced in the trial.
Before an application for an inquiry into a conviction can be lodged, it must be sent to a Crown Prosecutor, to provide a response to the purported fresh evidence.
In this case, the Crown response included the following points.
The full application, including the Crown response, goes to a judge who delivers a ruling as to whether it contains genuine fresh evidence that merits an inquiry into the conviction.
The success rate of such applications is vanishingly low, so it is not very surprising that this one was rejected. What is interesting is the reasons given for the rejection.