Sunday, November 06, 2005


Yesterday's account of an innocent man being released only because the real killer confessed is not a totally isolated event. In the following Australian case a young boy was pressured by police threats into confessing to the murder of his father -- and was only released because the real guilty parties owned up. The behaviour of the corrupt police involved was later the subject of an official whitewash and they were never charged with any offence

In the early hours of 22 June 1984, Kevin Mannix met a horrible death. He had been bound, gagged, blindfolded and was carried from his Gold Coast unit for reasons which were not immediately clear when his body was discovered. In the course of his abduction, Mannix managed to free one hand, and to remove part of the adhesive tape covering his mouth. When he uttered a cry for help, he was thrown bodily down the flight of stairs leading from the unit, his head striking a concrete pillar. Mannix was stabbed numerous times in the chest, and his throat cut. It was a particularly brutal murder.

The nature of the crime and the background of its victim were to attract considerable attention. Mannix was the proprietor of a sex shop across the New South Wales border in Tweed Heads. He was a well-known purveyor of erotic literature, videos and assorted paraphernalia, and a producer of occasional strip-shows, who had previously been the subject of minor prosecutions on charges relating to obscene publications.

Detectives from the Broadbeach Criminal Investigation Branch, Queensland Police, began their inquiries the morning of 22 June. But the detectives had a difficult time, as the motive for the killing was not immediately apparent, and there were no obvious suspects. The days wore on without anyone having been charged. After more than ten days had passed, the inspector in charge of the Queensland Police Homicide Squad arrived from Brisbane with a senior detective to check on the progress of the investigation.

The suspicions of investigating detectives soon focused on the victim's son, Barry, who had initially notified police that he discovered his father's corpse outside the block of units. Barry had appeared remarkably composed when police had arrived at the scene of the crime. He reported having returned to his father's unit shortly after midnight on 22 June finding it unlocked with the lights on. The television set and room heater were both on as well. The father's coin collection was scattered on the floor.

Barry Mannix told police that he did not regard this situation as suspicious and he assumed that his father had gone out. Barry, who had been working at his father's sex shop, said that on returning to his father's unit, he watched television briefly, then fell asleep and discovered his father's body the next morning when he awoke and went out on the balcony of the unit to check the condition of the surf.

Barry's unusual behaviour before and after notifying the police aroused suspicion enough. Investigators also learned that Barry had arranged for the removal of a pistol belonging to his father from the crime scene shortly before police arrived. On 6 July 1984, Barry Mannix was asked to accompany detectives to the Broadbeach CIB office. He went willingly.

The techniques of interrogating a person suspected of having committed a crime have evolved considerably from ancient practices of ordeal by fire. No longer is it regarded as acceptable to use or threaten physical force to coerce a suspect to confess. The practice of 'verballing' - fabricating a confession and attributing it to a suspect - is similarly frowned upon, at least officially.

In order to maintain a psychological advantage over a suspect, interrogators do not encourage consultation with family, friends or legal counsel. They seek to convey the impression that they know more about the suspect's involvement in the alleged offence than they actually do. Interrogation over a prolonged period is designed to weaken a suspect's defences. Upon occasion, interrogators may resort to methods of deceit or guile which might not be considered appropriate in conventional social discourse. The language which they employ tends to depart from standards of polite formality.

After intermittent interrogation over the following twelve hours, during which, he later alleged, he was neither free to leave the police station nor permitted to contact his mother, Barry Mannix signed two written confessions to having murdered his father. At 1.48 a.m. he was charged with his father's murder. When his mother arrived at the station his first words to her were 'I want you to know I didn't do it'.

Barry Mannix was taken to the Southport Watchhouse for the weekend, and on Monday 9 July 1984 was moved to Her Majesty's Prison Brisbane. On 20 July 1984 he appeared before Mr O'Connell SM, in Southport Magistrate's Court and was remanded to 10 September for committal proceedings. On 15 October 1984, Mannix was committed for trial. But before the trial commenced the case took a strange turn. On 7 November 1984, another person was being questioned by police about a stolen car. Burdened with guilt, he confessed to being a party to the murder of Kevin Mannix. In doing so, he implicated three accomplices - none of whom was Barry Mannix.

Three of the suspects were arrested on 8 November, and the fourth surrendered a few days later. One had been a former employee of Kevin Mannix, and had felt that he had not received a fair share of the strip-show profits. The four had intended to abduct Mannix and to rob his home and sex shop. On 15 November, Barry Mannix lodged a complaint with the Police Complaints Tribunal of Queensland. The following day he applied for bail and was released from custody. On 6 December 1984, the Attorney-General of Queensland filed a 'No True Bill' in the Mannix case, and Barry, fearing that he might become a target for police harassment, fled to New Zealand.

In his complaint to the Tribunal, Barry Mannix alleged that he confessed only after police threatened to charge other members of the family with the murde. Referring to one detective's questions, Barry Mannix testified:

Then he started saying that my parents were both 'evil' and told me that if I don't give them a statement of what happened, that he would lock my mother up with me and if my grandparents knew anything about it they would be locked up as well and then my brother and sister would spend the rest of their lives in foster homes. They also said that my mother would be charged with accessory to murder and I would be charged as well if I didn't make a statement. After that they said they were going to bring in the photos of my father's autopsy and I just kept on saying 'no, don't, I don't want to see them.' (quoted in Queensland 1986, p. 14).

He further alleged physical abuse at the hands of police. Referring to the conduct of one detective, he alleged.

He told me the CIB were fed up with my lying and he started asking me how I did it and why and when I told him that I knew nothing about it, he slammed his fist on the table, got up and grabbed me by the hair at the back of the head and pulled his other hand in a clenched fist up to his side and said: 'I ought to smash you right in the face you shithead' (quoted in Queensland 1986, p. 13).

The Mannix case was hardly the first occasion in Queensland in which police investigative practices had been called into question. Indeed, disclosures by a police constable in 1975 that a substantial portion of the evidence in one case had been concocted by police gave rise to a wide ranging judicial inquiry into police practices.

Anyone whose goals are thwarted by legal technicalities is likely to become impatient. There are those police who embrace an ideology which holds that the ends of policing justify the means. There are others, for whom policing is simply a way to make a living. As is the case with ordinary citizens, the inconveniences of life often tempt one to cut corners.

Few laypersons can appreciate the frustration which police experience when they have identified a person whom they are virtually certain of having committed an offence but lack sufficient evidence to lay charges. Such frustration may be particularly acute amongst those police who view their work not in terms of adventure, professional advancement, gamesmanship or intellectual challenge, but rather in terms of a crusade against evil.

The Lucas Inquiry, as it came to be called, found evidence of assaults on suspects, planting of evidence, forgery of warrants and fabrication of confessions by police on a significant scale. Its most significant recommendation called for the routine mechanical recording of interrogations conducted by police in all cases involving indictable offences. (Queensland 1977, p. iv). The proposal met with resistance from the Queensland Police and was not implemented.

More here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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