Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wrongly convicted Australian man slams police failure to pursue the real killer

There have long been strong suspicions about who the real killer was but the police would have to admit that they bungled the initial investigation before they could pursue that -- and so far they are too stiff-necked

GRAHAM Stafford, the man cleared of murdering schoolgirl Leanne Holland, would gladly give up millions of dollars in compensation to have the real killer behind bars.

Mr Stafford, of Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, served 15 years in jail for the brutal slaying of his then-girlfriend's 12-year-old sister in Goodna, west of Brisbane, in 1991. His conviction was quashed on appeal in December and he is now able to pursue compensation through the civil courts after the Crown on Friday decided it would not proceed with any charges against him.

Mr Stafford, speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail yesterday, said he would likely go down that legal path - but there was a more urgent priority. "There is a killer out there. That person, or persons, has been on the run for nearly 20 years," Mr Stafford said. "It is time he was caught and brought to justice - for my sake, for Leanne's sake, for the Holland family. "The case has to be re-opened and the killer caught," he said.

Mr Stafford received a Facebook message on Friday - soon after walking free from court for the final time - which hinted at the identity of Leanne's killer.

The informant, who has connections to the Holland family and has followed the case from the start, told Mr Stafford two people were responsible for Leanne's death. Mr Stafford said it was credible information, and would eventually be passed on to any new investigation. "It is encouraging. . . I don't know what to make of it at this stage," he said.

Information gathered by former Queensland Police Service detective and private investigator Graeme Crowley and The Sunday Mail over 16 years cast serious doubt on Mr Stafford's conviction. That new evidence - which formed the basis of Mr Stafford's two Court of Appeal cases - pointed to at least two individuals who had the opportunity and were more likely to have killed Leanne. Police never investigated those suspects.

The independent investigation found Mr Stafford had no time to commit the killing, that tyre tracks found at the body-discovery scene were not from his car, and a maggot supposedly found by police in the boot of his car - but never documented - was not from Leanne's body.

Mr Stafford said Attorney-General Cameron Dick had indicated to his legal team on Friday that once a formal request was made to re-open the Holland homicide, he would then consider it. Mr Stafford said a request would be filed this week.

He said compensation for the 15 years spent behind bars would "be nice", but catching Leanne's killer would be satisfying to all involved with the case. "Money can't bring back all those years, it can't bring back Leanne," he said. "But a new investigation and finding the killer could bring a lot of closure to everyone."

Police on Friday said they would not pursue the matter any further. They remained convinced they had the right man - despite the Court of Appeal quashing his conviction. Justice Catherine Holmes said she would have entered a verdict of acquittal. Court of Appeal president Tony Fitzgerald said the same thing in the 1997 appeal, which was lost 2-1.

Mr Stafford said yesterday he was happy with Friday's decision - which he learnt of from the media before he even entered the Supreme Court complex - but on the other hand wished the Crown had taken it to trial.

"I was thinking of my family first, particularly my dad Eric, who has not been well. I did not want to have to put them through a long drawn-out trial again," he said. "But a new trial would have given me the opportunity to clear my name once and for all. "I would have been able to walk out of the court without a shadow of doubt. There would have been no room left for argument."

Mr Stafford said there would always be doubters and he was not sure what to make of the Holland family's agreement with the Crown not to proceed with a trial. "You can read it two ways: Either they accept I am innocent, or they don't want to go through it all again. I would like to be able to talk to them again one day."

Mr Stafford said his legal team would launch a petition to get the case re-opened. "In the meantime, I will just try to get on with my life the best I can," he said. "I am trying to maintain a semblance of normality, but there are still a lot of ups and downs."

Mr Crowley yesterday urged police to treat the Holland homicide as a "cold case". He said it needed a fresh set of investigative eyes and a thorough review.

Mr Crowley and Professor Paul Wilson, his co-author of the book Who Killed Leanne?, said a cold-case review would not cost the State Government money as they did not have to set up a new review.

Original report here

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