Monday, March 04, 2013

Australia: Police negligence accepted. Murder charges to be laid in the deaths of women 21 years ago

To anybody who knew even the basic facts about this matter, it has been crying out for justice. The small-town cops who ruled that the deaths were suicide were widely ridiculed. Were they just lazy or did they want to avoid upheavals in their small town? Perhaps both. Or could it be a simple as what one of the cops involved said: He claims a senior police officer refused to order an investigation into the suspected double murder because of overtime costs?

FOR 21 years, Vicki Arnold's family has been told the mild-mannered chartered accountant bashed her best friend with a rock, slit her throat and shot her twice before turning the gun on herself - firing two shots through her own head in an apparent murder-suicide.

She did this, according to a police investigation and two coronial inquests, despite having no motive and no history of depression or any other mental health issues.

Yesterday, State Coroner Michael Barnes tore holes in the findings of police and the previous inquests - declaring it was more likely Ms Arnold, 27, and her best friend Julie-Anne Leahy, 26, were murdered.

In an extraordinary hearing before a packed courtroom, Mr Barnes ordered Mrs Leahy's husband Alan stand trial on two counts of murder.

A warrant was issued for his arrest and he is expected to be extradited from Western Australia to face court in Queensland.

Mr Leahy yesterday told The Courier-Mail he would maintain his innocence. "Of course I will fight the charges," he said.

The bodies of the women were found inside the Leahy family 4WD in remote bushland near Cairns in August 1991 - two weeks after they failed to return from a late-night fishing trip.

"Those involved in the early stages of the investigation failed to gather, lost or corrupted evidence that may have established the truth of what happened at Cherry Tree Creek on the night of July 26, 1991," Mr Barnes said.

"They then set about squeezing what evidence was left into an explanation that required no further action."

He said two coronial inquests went along with the police opinion that the women's deaths were an open-shut murder-suicide.

The court heard Mrs Leahy's husband told police the women had left home after midnight to go fishing and never returned.

Mr Barnes said it was telling that Mr Leahy spent that night in bed with his wife's 16-year-old sister Vanessa. "Alan Leahy spent considerable time in his wife's sister's bed on the night the two women disappeared," he said.

"A possible interpretation for what would seem cavalier behaviour is that he knew his wife would not be returning."

Mr Barnes also found:

* While Ms Arnold had bought the gun that was used to shoot the women, the most likely scenario was that she had done so for someone else. Mr Barnes said she knew nothing about guns, yet insisted on buying a .22 rifle while giving various explanations as to why she needed it.

* Ms Arnold had neither the equipment or the know-how to saw down a rifle. Mr Leahy did and lied about owning a vice, which would have been used to shorten the barrel.

* Ms Arnold had no motive, appeared content the night she disappeared and had apparently embarked on a midnight fishing trip despite having made work appointments for 6am the following day.

* It was unlikely Ms Arnold had shot herself in the back of the head after first shooting herself in the thigh and chin.

* Trajectory examinations found one bullet was likely fired from the back seat.

* The sawn-off barrel from the gun, a hacksaw and instruction manual were placed inside a pillow slip from the Leahy house and left in Ms Arnold's driveway two weeks after her body was found. Mr Barnes said "only someone who had themselves been involved in the deaths had a motive to do that".

He said while Ms Arnold did not appear to have a motive, Mr Leahy did.

The court heard Mr Leahy had been having an affair with his sister-in-law, had mounting debts and stood to gain $120,000 from his wife's life insurance. He also lied about owning true crime magazines - one depicting a murder made to look like a murder-suicide. The court heard the day before the women disappeared, Mrs Leahy had asked her younger sister to stay home from school - a request the teenager was convinced meant Mrs Leahy wanted to confront her about the affair.

Mr Barnes ordered Mr Leahy to stand trial at the next sittings of the Supreme Court in Cairns, giving him 14 days to surrender to police.

The women's relatives in court - and others viewing the hearing live in Cairns - cried and applauded as Mr Barnes delivered his finding.

Mrs Leahy's brother Peter Martin punched the air. "I'm on top of the world," he said. "(The decision) takes Vicki straight out of the picture - as it should have been from word go. We can wake up tomorrow morning and have a smile on our face."

In Cairns, Ms Arnold's wheelchair-bound mother Vida sobbed as Mr Leahy was ordered to stand trial.

"I've waited nearly 22 years for this result," she said. "I've lost a lot of sleep over the years. Who knows if I'll get any sleep tonight." She thanked Mr Barnes, her lawyer Philip Bovey and State MP Curtis Pitt for correcting a "miscarriage of justice".

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here

No comments: