The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 42 : 42

FRONT PAGE

40 And that’s when Canberra stopped trivialisi­ng the harmless antics of a “stirrer”. Because one night soon afterwards, on January 10, 1989, Colin Winchester was gunned down outside his home. the murder, was contentiou­s: was he admitting guilt or rambling to himself? But the forensic evidence was apparently unequivoca­l. An expert witness matched gunshot residue found at the crime scene to that found in Eastman’s car, a cobalt 1979 Mazda 626. The jury took three days to return a guilty verdict. In handing down his sentence of life imprisonme­nt, Acting Justice Carruthers concluded: “This investigat­ion must surely rank as one of the most skilled, sophistica­ted and determined forensic investigat­ions in the history of criminal investigat­ion in Australia.” into Colin Winchester’s murder took 125 days over three years, and returned an open finding, but Eastman was a suspect from the day after the killing. When questioned by police he was vague and uncooperat­ive, failing to account for his whereabout­s. It emerged that he had visited a sex worker on the night of Winchester’s death, though she could only provide an alibi for the hours after the murder. It took until 1991, during the closing stages of the inquest, for Eastman to state his innocence. The following year, after a campaign of AFP surveillan­ce that often constitute­d harassment, the coronial inquest was reopened to take new evidence, and Eastman was charged with murder. During a long and difficult trial over seven months in 1995, he ranted and raged, at one stage appearing in a separate room from the court via video link; when his language became obscene, the volume was turned down. Eastman seemed more concerned with highlighti­ng police harassment than proving his innocence. Twelve The coronial inquest from that time is his hat. The consensus is that the style – wide-brimmed, straw, tapered crown – is called a “Lifeguard”. But lifeguards in this country don’t wear hats like that – dads at the cricket do, done up with a chinstrap so they don’t fall off during the Mexican wave. In my mind’s eye David Eastman was wearing that hat when he was arrested in 1992; and throughout his trial in 1995 and every day of his many subsequent appeals. He was still wearing it 17 years later, in 2012, when new evidence helped prompt the ACT government to call a judicial inquiry into the case. And in 2014 when Acting Justice Brian Martin found that a “substantia­l miscarriag­e All I remember “This investigat­ion must surely rank as one of the most skilled, sophistica­ted and determined forensic investigat­ions in the history of criminal investigat­ion in Australia.” of justice has occurred”; though he was “fairly certain” of Eastman’s guilt, “a nagging doubt remains”. So, when Eastman arrives at the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory in June 2018 for the first day of his retrial, I don’t recognise him. Now 72, he is short and slight and reptilian ( in the face; he wears black sneakers, cuffed jeans and a navy windcheate­r over a flannel shirt. On his head, Eastman wears a grey stevedore’s beanie. The photograph­ers waste no time. Apart from an obscured shot of him being bundled into a car upon his release from prison, it’s been decades since they updated their stock shots of David Eastman; he’d been wearing his Lifeguard in that newspaper’s articles I’d been reading up until the retrial. Like Canberra itself, the make-up of this court is a compromise between Melbourne and Sydney. In the interests of neutrality, Victorian Supreme Court Justice Murray Kellam will oversee the retrial. The prosecutio­n is from Sydney; the defence from Melbourne; the jokes about how things are done “this side of the Murray”, plentiful. The courthouse resembles a regional airport: the same sole metal detector that is only set off by belt buckles half the time; the same groups of uniformed men times he sacked his counsel, claiming they were unable or unwilling to follow these instructio­ns; he fired any lawyer who questioned his fitness to plead. For much of the trial he represente­d himself, using the platform to abuse the prosecutor and the judge. (One day, Acting Justice Kenneth Carruthers asked if the accused had any questions of a police witness. “Yes,” said Eastman, “I wish to ask your Honour why you are such a lying cunt.” His Honour, who had been briefed on Eastman’s paranoid personalit­y disorder, replied: “I will treat that as a no.”) The prosecutio­n’s case was largely circumstan­tial. Although the murder weapon was never found, spent cartridge cases left by the body were linked to a rifle Eastman was alleged, by one witness, to have been on his way to buy and, by another, trying to sell. Witnesses told of seeing Eastman looking into police cars at Winchester’s station on the day of the murder, and allegedly staking out his home two nights before. In the months prior, Eastman was heard saying: “If it’s the last thing I do I’ll get back at the police”; “I will kill Winchester and get the ombudsman too”; and, of Winchester, “I should shoot the bastard.” The recorded evidence, from when police planted listening devices in Eastman’s flat in the years after iguanan?) Canberra Times the monthly — essay

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