The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 48 : 48

FRONT PAGE

46 On January 18, 1989, 25 particles of gunshot residue were vacuumed from Eastman’s car boot As of January 1989, 36 types of ammunition sold in Australia left greenish, translucen­t balls of gunshot residue Gunshot residue can be transferre­d from one surface to another It is not possible to age gunshot residue The 25 particles found in Eastman’s boot could have been produced by any of the 36 types Nelipa in 1991; in 1994, facing peer criticism, he told another member of the AFP he was “not going to see the brief suffer”, wanted to “put a brake on these turkeys” and suggested the critics be censored: “[w]e don’t want these bastards putting that sort of stuff in writing.” We forget how recent the advent of forensic science is. In 1989, DNA’s use was very limited in Australia, and the way in which the forensic scientist compared the gunshot residue was – unbeknowns­t to the jury – a novel one. Inexperien­ce led to mistakes: in Australia, junk forensics led to the murder conviction­s of Edward Splatt (in 1978) and Lindy Chamberlai­n (in 1982). In both cases it wasn’t technical flaws but a lack of profession­al detachment that skewed the results. Scientific objectivit­y is meant to reduce doubt; its subjective applicatio­n only increases it. Acting Justice Martin found no scientific basis to say the material in Eastman’s boot was PMC brand, and that “at best the reliable evidence establishe­d that green flattened ball particles were found in the Mazda boot which were consistent with PMC and numerous other types of ammunition, including ammunition the applicant said he fired in rifles which he placed in the boot many months before the murder”. The closest thing this case had to a smoking gun, up in smoke. a retired schoolteac­her made a statement to police. In 1985 or ’86, he said, he borrowed his friend David Eastman’s car and, without telling him (“He did not like killing at all”), took it rabbit shooting. That his story was discredite­d in court (where had he all these years? “That’s a good question”) didn’t matter: by then the spectre of game-changing new evidence had helped trigger a judicial inquiry. There were 19 stated grounds for doubting the soundness of Eastman’s conviction, from his fitness to plead to the judge’s objectivit­y. In 2010, been Money was “no limit”, he was to involve himself “as deep as possible” and “all the important dealings were done with Colin Winchester”. But it wasn’t the provenance of the gunshot residue that ultimately caused the retrial; it was its analysis. The forensic scientist who worked on the case, his name now subject to a gag order, was disgraced: witnesses testified to his aversion to peer review, his disciplina­ry and procedural breaches, his history of “going too far” in conclusion­s – even “oversellin­g” his expertise. When the forensic scientist compared the residue found in Eastman’s boot against an ammunition database, he found it exclusivel­y matched – in shape, size, colour, burn characteri­stics and chemistry – the .22 PMC-brand ammunition used to kill Winchester. At trial, the evidence went unchalleng­ed. But the judicial inquiry heard that the AFP had been warned of this forensic scientist as early as August 1989. He failed to comply with accepted practice, and in the years leading up to the Eastman trial was discipline­d for using work facilities to conduct paid private work. When he finally relented to being peer reviewed, colleagues were presented with inadequate and inconsiste­nt findings. Concern was raised that the forensic scientist had done all the work himself, but the tests could not be repeated: most of the particles were now destroyed. Perhaps most alarming was the forensic scientist’s subjectivi­ty. “Why aren’t they arresting Eastman on the basis of the evidence?!” he told Detective Sergeant Peter If the court had known of the flaws in the forensic evidence, continued Martin, increased reliance would have been placed on weaker, circumstan­tial evidence. It was not known how this would impact the alternativ­e theory for who killed Winchester – that had not yet been tested before a jury. only two witnesses. One is a speech-perception expert who says the poor quality of the police buggings resulted in an unreliable transcript for assisting a jury; the other thanks me in a thick Italian accent as I hold the door open for him, his hands full of fedora. The trial takes a strange turn. The AFP version is this: in 1980, a member of Canberra’s Calabrian community approached Detective Sergeant Brian Lockwood with a propositio­n. With police sanction, the man and his unsuspecti­ng associates would grow a marijuana crop on his farm at Bungendore, over the New South Wales border outside Canberra. Requesting only his expenses be paid and using the cover story of corrupt police protection, he would infiltrate and provide intelligen­ce on the cannabis trade. He’d even chosen a code-name: “YKW” – You Know Who. Lockwood’s boss, then Detective Superinten­dent Colin Winchester, couldn’t believe his luck. Sounding like The defence calls the monthly — essay

© PressReader. All rights reserved.