Monday, November 11, 2013

ACT: David Eastman murder case reopened

There has long been an odour about this case -- JR

Information suggesting David Harold Eastman might have been planning a ‘‘homicidal attack’’ on his trial judge was circulated to court staff in the lead up to the convicted murder's trial, an inquiry has heard.

The inquiry is trying to determine whether then chief justice Ken Carruthers had seen mental health reports on Eastman, and whether this could have created a perception of bias. A former registrar told the court on Monday that while the information had been circulated among staff, he had been careful not to tell Justice Carruthers.

Eastman was found guilty in 1995 of the 1989 murder of Assistant Australian Federal Police Commissioner Colin Winchester.

Mr Winchester was shot as he sat in his car in his neighbour’s driveway in Deakin one January night in 1989.

Eastman was found guilty of murder by a jury in 1995, and is serving life in the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

But the conviction of Eastman, who has maintained his innocence, is the subject of an inquiry that formally began hearing evidence on Monday.

That inquiry was ordered by judge Shane Marshall last year because he was satisfied there was ’’fresh doubt’’ about Eastman’s guilt.

The inquiry has begun by looking at the existence of a number of mental health reports on Eastman, compiled by Dr Rod Milton, and whether they may have been given to the judge overseeing his trial, chief justice Carruthers, without being formally tendered in court.

One of those reports detailed alleged threats by Eastman, and the risk he may have posed to court staff.

Former Supreme Court registrar Alan Towell was the first witness to give evidence to the inquiry on Monday.

Mr Towell said the contents of the reports were disseminated to various members of the court, but he had been careful not to give the reports to the trial judge.

The inquiry heard that Dr Milton’s reports contained information suggesting that Eastman was a ‘‘significant risk’’ to chief justice Carruthers.

It heard the reports contained information suggesting he may have planned a ‘‘homicidal attack’’ on his trial judge.

Earlier on Monday morning, counsel assisting the inquiry, Liesl Chapman, SC, gave an opening submission outlining the questions expected to be addressed in the proceedings.

She identified nine categories of evidence in the Crown’s case against Eastman that were expected to be examined in the inquiry.

Those included questions about the evidence of his alleged purchase of the .22 rifle used to shoot Winchester, as well as issues with the forensic evidence linking gunshot residue and particles found in Eastman’s car boot, to that found at the crime scene.

The inquiry would also look at the Crown’s claims about Eastman’s motives for the killing.

These had revolved around his expulsion from the public service and anger over a pending assault charge.

There were questions over the threats Eastman was alleged to have made concerning Mr Winchester to others, and his alleged searching of electoral records for the Assistant Commissioner’s home address.

It would look at issues with the supposed confessions made by Eastman, which were recorded by potentially illegal bugs placed in his home at a time when he may have been suffering severe mental health issues. The inquiry would examine whether other hypotheses for the killing, including the possible involvement of the Calabrian mafia, had been dismissed.

It would also look at questions around Eastman’s fitness to plead, given his mental illness, and whether it was properly considered by the court.

Further evidence from the then Supreme Court registrar and an AFP Assistant Commissioner is expected to be heard on Monday afternoon.

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