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ACT News

David Eastman inquiry: ACT Supreme Court decision on prison release

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David Eastman leaves prison after conviction quashed

David Eastman has been released on bail after a court ruled he did not get a fair trial on charges he murdered Police Commissioner Colin Winchester. He left court in a maroon sedan, with a blanket over his head.

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And that's where we will leave it. Thanks for joining us. It's been a pretty momentous day for Canberra. There are still a lot of questions to be answered. Will there be a new trial? If not, will we ever know who really killed Colin Winchester? How will Eastman adjust to life back on the outside? And many, many others.

We'll try to answer as many of those as we can over the coming days, weeks and months.

In the meantime, here's a link again to Christopher Knaus and Michael Inman's wrap of today's proceeeding and here are some of the other headlines so far.

And just as we wrap up our live coverage of today's events, here's a video of Eastman leaving prison.

 

David Eastman leaves prison Click to play video

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David Eastman leaves prison after conviction quashed

David Eastman has been released on bail after a court ruled he did not get a fair trial on charges he murdered Police Commissioner Colin Winchester. He left court in a maroon sedan, with a blanket over his head.

PT0M15S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3e5ru 620 349

Here's that recap again, for those just catching up.

  • The ACT Supreme Court has quashed David Eastman's conviction for the murder of Police Commissioner Colin Winchester.
  • It has also recommended he face a retrial. However, that will be up to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which has to decide if there is still a chance of conviction, given the amount of time since the crime (1989) and the fact that many pieces of evidence are gone, and some witnesses are now dead.
  • Eastman has been granted bail, but only after initially trying to argue against the conditions that were to be placed on him. He eventually agreed, but only after a judge suggested the application could be put over until Monday.
  • He did not attend court and spent the day in prison, at the Alexander Maconochie Centre on the edge of Canberra.
  • He left prison in a maroon sedan, with a blanket over him, heading for an unknown location.

And here's the full story on Simon Corbell's statement, from our Assembly team of Kirsten Lawson and Tom McIlroy.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell would not say on Friday whether or not freed prisoner David Eastman would be accommodated by the government while on bail.

And here's a clearer shot from Jay Cronan, although there's not much to see of Eastman.

David Eastman leaves the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra.

David Eastman leaves the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra. Photo: Jay Cronan

We'll have some better photos in a moment, but here's the first shot of David Eastman leaving prison for the first time in almost 20 years.

 

Two cars, the second carrying David Eastman, leave the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Symonston.

Two cars, the second carrying David Eastman, leave the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Symonston.

At least 20 members of the media were there. Eastman's car slowed briefly, but did not stop and he was not visible throughout.

Eastman left prison just about 5.55pm in a maroon sedan. He was in the back seat with a blanket over him.

He was part of a two car convey, in the second car. It is not known where Eastman is going.

David Eastman is out of jail.

Just a correction on earlier, Simon Corbell did not say that Eastman would be accommodated by the government while on bail. He said Eastman would get all the normal support other prisoners received on their release.

He did not say whether Eastman would or would not be accommodated.

Chris Knaus, though, tells us that the earliest Eastman could face a re-trail is February 2015. So - if the trial goes ahead - there could be quite a while before this is finally over.

We mentioned earlier that the Victims of Crime Commissioner was in touch with Colin Winchester's family.

They have now said, through the commissioner, that they are "up for" another trial.

"The fact that this process has never closed meant that is has never brought finality to the Winchester family," Commissioner John Hinchey said.

"Every reconsideration by the courts has resulted in further days of mourning for the Winchester family."

You can read more here.

Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey.

Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Another person who is not so happy that Eastman will be getting out of jail is retired detective Richard Ninness.

He spent years chasing David Eastman over one of Australia's most notorious police assassinations and he fears he could become a target once the prisoner is set free.

Former detective commander Richard Ninness spoke of his lingering concerns about Eastman as his day of judgment finally comes to hand.

Mr Ninness and his team came under fire in the inquiry into Eastman's conviction, including for a surveillance campaign that sometimes "crossed the line" into the realm of the unfair and unlawful.

You can read more on that here.

Retired detective Richard Ninness.

Retired detective Richard Ninness.

Terry O'Donnell, former lawyer and long-time campaigner for Eastman, also spoke to media outside the ACT Supreme Court. 

“We’re back to where we were in December 1992, we’ve still got one more step to go," he said.

“I believe Mr Eastman has a strong defence case, that’s if the matter was ever to go to trial again.”

Mr O'Donnell said he believed there were significant difficulties in holding a re-trial, due to the deaths of witnesses, a lack of proper investigation into the possibility the Calabrian mafia were responsible, and the fact that there was no proper forensic analysis.

Asked what he would say to Colin Winchester's family, he replied:

“It’s not my business to say anything, but if someone else did do, the AFP haven’t been a friend of Colin Winchester’s family, because they’ve got the wrong man.”

Former Eastman lawyer, Terry O'Donnell, speaks with media outside the ACT Supreme Court.

Former Eastman lawyer, Terry O'Donnell, speaks with media outside the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Graham Tidy

Mr Corbell said Eastman would have access to the ACT Corrective Services' Throughcare program to support his transition back into the community, while on bail.

"For detainees who have spent long periods in prison, the adjustment to life outside can be difficult," he statement reads.

"Living in the community is quite different to the regimented nature of prison life and society, technology and other things have changed significantly since that person was imprisoned."

He says it is now up to the DPP whether another trial goes ahead.

Mr Corbell says the Victims of Crime Assistance League has been in touch with Commissioner Winchester's family today, keeping them up to date with the latest developments in the case.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell is addressing the media now.

Mr Eastman will be treated the same way as any other prisoner who has been released. He will get the normal support from government agencies, including for accommodation.

"We do not release prisoners into homelessness, regardless of who they are," he said.

Dr John Boersig, the CEO Legal Aid, which represented Eastman, issued a statement on the steps of the ACT Supreme Court.

“Throughout the long history of this case Mr Eastman has strenuously asserted his innocence. He is relieved finally to be exonerated and to regain his freedom after 19 years.

"He would like to thank Mr Terry O’Donnell and his other lawyers, Dr Wallace, Ms Edna Wallace, and all those people in Canberra and elsewhere who have supported him  during this long fight for justice.

“Mr Eastman is looking forward to resuming an healthy and normal life, including seeking employment, and would greatly appreciate it if his privacy could be respected.”

“Until the suggestion that there should be a new trial has been dealt with, Mr Eastman, on legal advice, will be unable to make any further comment.”

A spokesman for Legal Aid reads a statement from
David Eastman.

A spokesman for Legal Aid reads a statement from David Eastman. Photo: Graham Tidy

For those who want to read the full judgment, you can follow this link to the ACT Supreme Court.

Here's a run down of some of the key dates.

And you can read a handy explainer of the main issues raised during the inquiry here.

Let's just recap things again for those who have just joined us.

  • The ACT Supreme Court has quashed David Eastman's conviction for the murder of Police Commissioner Colin Winchester.
  • It has also recommended he face a retrial. However, that will be up to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which has to decide if there is still a chance of conviction, given the amount of time since the crime (1989) and the fact that many pieces of evidence are gone, and some witnesses are now dead.
  • Eastman has been granted bail, but only after initially trying to argue against the conditions that were to be placed on him. He eventually agreed, but only after a judge suggested the application could be put over until Monday.
  • He is still in prison, at the Alexander Maconochie Centre on the edge of Canberra, and is expected to be released later tonight.
  • He will be leaving in a civilian vehicle, rather than a police or corrective services van, but is not going to talk to the media.
Eastman's barrister, Shane Gill, outside the ACT Supreme Court after the conviction was quashed.

Eastman's barrister, Shane Gill, outside the ACT Supreme Court after the conviction was quashed. Photo: Graham Tidy

Things have wrapped up at the courts now. Here's a photo of Eastman's barrister, Shane Gill, leaving the court.

We're getting through some of those bail conditions now.

That's a lot of people he will have to avoid.

In the meantime, here are some more photos from the court hearings into the murder.

(21/8/89)The Winchester family on the first day of the inquest into his death. (from left) Son Peter, daughter Jenny Spence and widow Gwen. Click for more photos

Court hearings in relation to the murder of Colin Winchester

(21/8/89)The Winchester family on the first day of the inquest into his death. (from left) Son Peter, daughter Jenny Spence and widow Gwen. Photo: Canberra Times

Simon Corbell.

Simon Corbell. Photo: Stuart Walmsley

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell will now make a statement after all. He's just issued a media release saying he will make a statement at 5pm, and then take questions. We'll bring you the latest information from that once we get it.

We had a bit of a dig through some of the old files, and here are some shots of the investigation into Colin Winchester's murder.

The scene of assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester's murder in Lawley street, Deakin. Mr Winchester's house is on the left, but habitually parked in the driveway of a neighbour's home on the right. Police believed his killer probably waited behind the trees and bushes on the right and as Mr Winchester pulled into the driveway, moved around behind the car to carry out the murder. (***NB- The Ford vehicle is an addition to the original photo to illustrate) Click for more photos

The investigation of the murder of Colin Winchester

The scene of assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester's murder in Lawley street, Deakin. Mr Winchester's house is on the left, but habitually parked in the driveway of a neighbour's home on the right. Police believed his killer probably waited behind the trees and bushes on the right and as Mr Winchester pulled into the driveway, moved around behind the car to carry out the murder. (***NB- The Ford vehicle is an addition to the original photo to illustrate) Photo: Canberra Times

So what do you think, can David Eastman face court again - or is it now too late?

Poll: Should David Eastman face a retrial over the murder of ACT police chief Colin Stanley Winchester?

Poll form
  1. Please select an answer.
  2. View results
Yes, one way or another it needs to be revisited.

44%

No, it's too long since it happened and we've lost much of the evidence and witnesses from that time.

47%

I don't know.

9%

Total votes: 1747.

Would you like to vote?

You will need Cookies enabled to use our Voting Feature.

Disclaimer:

These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.

Then there will be three weeks before he has to appear before court again. While the conviction has been quashed, he is still facing murder charges over the shooting death of Colin Winchester. Whether he faces trial will be up to the DPP.

We're not sure how long it will take to sort out the bail papers, but we are still expecting he will be released from prison tonight.

It will be interesting to see what Eastman tells his lawyers during this break.

Of course, what's two more days after 19 years.

Before Chris Knaus and Michael Inman took over the mantle of covering David Eastman's many appeals, Canberra Times journalist Rod Campbell was the expert on all things Eastman.

Rod, who sadly passed away in 2008, was there from the very beginning, jointly writing that first story on Colin Winchester's death and then penning the piece on Eastman's arrest. He covered the inquest, the trial and the many appeals.

Don Malcolm's letter to the editor from August 2012, when the inquiry that brought us to today's decision,  sums it up well.

From wherever journalists go in the hereafter, former Canberra Times law and court reporter Rod Campbell will be sinking a mild libation or two on hearing of Justice Marshall's decision to order a new inquiry into the Eastman affair (''Eastman gets his new day in court'', August 11).

Campbell was not legally trained. But he had a unique gift of being able to report the law in language that could be easily understood. As Crispin Hull said in Campbell's eulogy, (Rod) made no assumptions about legal knowledge of ways of legal thinking. It enabled him to better bring the law to the people.

Campbell was also a fervent and passionate believer in justice, fair play and due process. His book The Winchester Scandal (co-authored with Brian Toohey and William Pinwill) eloquently stated the case for a review of the Eastman matter. It should be on the reading list of all those appointed to the new inquiry. In the paradox of life, it's unfortunate that Campbell can't report on the new inquiry. But I'm sure that wherever he is, he will follow its progress with great interest.

Don Malcolmson, Bywong, NSW

And looks like the court will take another break.

So yes, after almost two decades behind bars and the chance to be released on bail as long as he abides by some conditions, David Eastman is arguing the finer points of those conditions.

 

Colin Winchester was Assistant Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police when he was shot in 1989.

Colin Winchester was Assistant Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police when he was shot in 1989.

Tom McIlroy: ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has given The Canberra Times a short statement on today's historic decision in the ACT Supreme Court. 

Mr Hanson said he is thinking of the family of murdered Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Colin Winchester.

“My thoughts are with the Winchester family at this time who will find this decision distressing," Mr Hanson said. 

"We accept the decision of the judiciary and await a decision on a re-trial.”

But while he has been listening, he hasn't been appearing through that video link.  Few outside of prison authorities have seen David Eastman for quite some time.

While he's not at the court, as you would expect David Eastman is paying close attention to proceedings.

 

We're still going through the full judgment, but the judges seem to be pointing a finger at the prosecutors for the problems.

... it is clear from the report and from what we have said earlier in these reasons that Mr Eastman's first trial miscarried largely, but not exclusively, as a result of the conduct of the prosecuting authorities, primarily the AFP and the Director. Both the AFP and the Director failed to comply satisfactorily with their duties of disclosure. The approach taken by the prosecuting authorities to the conduct of Mr Barnes and the presentation of his and the associated forensic evidence compounded the difficulties.

Of course, it's not just David Eastman affected by this decision. Colin Winchester's family is still suffering, all these years later.

Their hurt has been compounded by the never-ending court wrangling over Eastman's conviction, proceeding in one form or another since he was condemned at trial in 1995.

Any resolution that Eastman gets, will no doubt have the opposite affect on them. While the family has previously asked to be left alone, they passed on a message of hurt after the May inquiry's findings. You can read that here.

Dennis Gellatly is the CEO of the AFP Association.

As mentioned earlier, even if the DPP does order a retrial, Eastman's lawyers could apply for a stay. No doubt they would argue that there is no way for their client to get a fair trial, given the amount of time since the crime. Some witnesses have passed away, and much of the physical evidence is now gone.

Just back to the judgment for a moment. The judges point out that just because they have ordered a retrial, doesn't necessarily mean there will be one.

We are mindful, as well, an order for a retrial does not necessarily entail that there will, in fact, be a retrial. ... As we have said, whether a new trial takes place will be a matter for the Director to decide in accordance with his published prosecution policy. The matters that the Director must consider in accordance with that policy, before proceeding with a retrial, include whether on the present state of the evidence there are reasonable prospects of a conviction, the availability of witnesses, their reliability and credibility, the staleness of the offence, the likely length and expense of the trial and other matters relevant to whether a further trial is in the public interest.

Tom McIlroy: ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell has cancelled a planned media conference on the David Eastman decision this afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the ACT Government said the media conference will no longer go ahead at 3:30pm,  after the ACT Supreme Court’s ruling on the David Harold Eastman Inquiry.

Mr Corbell will instead issue a written statement to the media.

The case presents a lot of challenges for the government.

They may have to consider an official pardon for Eastman, and could also face compensation pay outs over the case.

More to come from the ACT Assembly later this afternoon.

And here's the front page from the day David Eastman was arrested.

 

Here is the key bit, from the bottom. The court has disagreed with Acting Justice Martin, and called for a retrial.

 

We have considered and given some weight to the views expressed by Martin AJ in the report that a new trial is not feasible and would be unfair both to the prosecution and to Mr Eastman. The Full Court is not, however, bound under s 430(2) to follow any recommendation by a board in this respect. Having given the matter detailed and anxious consideration, we respectfully disagree with the views of Martin AJ in relation to a retrial.

As we have said earlier, this is a wholly exceptional case. Weighing all the factors and considerations to which we have referred above, we have concluded that the interests of justice require that we order a retrial. The gravity of the offence, the life sentence imposed and the strength of the remaining circumstantial case persuade us that, despite the time that has elapsed since the offence and the time that Mr Eastman has already spent in custody, this is an appropriate case to order a new trial. The community has a vital interest in ensuring that a person against whom a strong circumstantial case of murder of a very senior police officer exists, does not escape conviction if, on a trial conducted in accordance with law, a jury is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of his or her guilt. And this is so even if the person has already served any term of imprisonment that might be imposed on him or her following conviction on the retrial: Spies 201 CLR at 638 [103]-[104]. Whether the Director decides to present Mr Eastman for trial again will be a matter for the exercise of his prosecutorial discretion in accordance with his prosecution policy. If that occurs it will be open to Mr Eastman to make any application for a stay to the trial judge that the then factual position may warrant.

For these reasons, we will order that Mr Eastman s conviction be quashed and that there be a new trial.

For those of you who like lots of detail, here's a link to the full judgement from the ACT Supreme Court.

Here's how the CT covered the murder back in 1989.

 

Here's our first take on the decision today, written by Chris Knaus.

David Eastman's conviction has been quashed and he will soon walk from prison a free man after serving more than 19 years of a life sentence.

But the prospect of a retrial for the 1989 murder of ACT police chief Colin Stanley Winchester will hang over Eastman's head.

Despite all the revelations of the Eastman inquiry, there remains a significant body of circumstantial evidence pointing towards Eastman's guilt.

The Australian Federal Police and Director of Public Prosecutions say the remaining evidence, minus the now debunked forensics, is "overwhelming" and proves a motive, threats, access to firearms, identification, and the fact Eastman, who even the AFP have described as one of the most intelligent humans on Earth, could not explain his whereabouts when asked by police the next morning.

Even Acting Justice Brian Martin said he thought Eastman was the killer, but he could not be sure.

“While I am fairly certain the applicant is guilty of the murder of the deceased, a nagging doubt remains,” the judge wrote. “Regardless of my view of the case and the applicant’s guilt, the substantial miscarriage of justice suffered by the applicant should not be allowed to stand uncorrected.”

Looking ahead a bit, even though the court has ordered a retrial, it will likely be up to the DPP to decide whether it goes ahead. There is also the chance that Eastman could seek a stay order, preventing it from ever going ahead.

A retrial is thought by many to be an impossibility.

Witnesses are dead, forensic evidence has been destroyed, and finding a jury free from the taint of prejudice after so many years of media coverage would be difficult at best.

Eastman's lawyers say trying to defend the case decades down the track would put him at a severe disadvantage.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions has repeatedly argued that an overwhelming case still points toward Eastman's guilt.

The break is so Eastman's lawyers can talk to him, checking on whether he will agree to the conditions the DPP wants.

And we're having a break - at least, the court is.

 

Just jumping back over to the Alexander Maconochie Centre, where the number of journos and cameras is growing.

 

One of the conditions the DPP is seeking is that Eastman be under supervision while on bail.

 

Meanwhile, that crowd outside looks like it's getting bigger.

 

So he's not necessarily out today. That will be up to whether the judges let the bail application go ahead.

An update on that. The DPP will not oppose bail, but say there must be 48 hours before the application.

There will be conditions on that bail, and we're about to find out what they are.

That means he will be getting out of prison, likely later today.

The DPP are not opposing Eastman's bail.

 

That would mean another weekend in jail for Eastman, and another hearing on Monday. Let's see what his lawyers have to say about that.

The DPP is arguing against hearing the application now. It says it needs 48 hours notice.

And yep, here comes Eastman's bail application.

 

The court has ordered a retrial.

Regardless of whether the court orders a re-trial, you would think Eastman's lawyers are getting ready their application to get him out of prison.

Of course, it's not over yet.

 

 

Or maybe not

 

 

Looks like this could take a bit longer...

When Eastman was sentenced, the judge said the case involved "one of the most skilled, sophisticated and determined forensic investigations in the history of criminal investigation in Australia".

That's almost laughable now. The work of expert Robert Collins Barnes, whose gunshot residue analysis provided a critical link between Eastman and the murder scene, has been almost completely debunked in the inquiry, losing nearly all credibility and reliability

And here's a wrap up of the inquiry's findings, along with the reaction that Chris Knaus wrote back in May.

 

For those looking for some more background as we await the Supreme Court's decision, here's a link to an edited extract of the findings of Acting Justice Brian Martin in relation to the convictioon of David Eastman in 1995 for the murder of Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester in January, 1989.

Basically, he says a substantial miscarriage of justice occurred in Eastman’s trial.

"The applicant did not receive a fair trial according to law. He was denied a fair chance of acquittal," he said.

"I recommend that the applicant’s conviction on 3 November 1995 for the murder of Colin Stanley Winchester be quashed."

Justice Rares now reading the courts decision. Stay tuned!

Here's another scene from across at the jail.

It's not far off now. We hear the Judges' associates have begun prepping the court, hushing some of that excited chatter.

It's taken a long time to get to today's decision, whatever that may be.

It was January 10, 1989 that AFP Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester is shot twice in the head as he gets out of his car at his home in Deakin. 

Here's a run down of some of the key dates.

Canberra barrister Shane Gill is ably replacing Eastman's lawyer Mark Griffin, QC.
 

ACT DPP boss Jon White is also missing. Young up-and-coming prosecutor Keegan Lee is deputising in his place.

We've just been told that the reasons for the Supreme Court judgment will be handed out to those gathered in the court room following decision, so there won't be any spoilers before the judges finish speaking.

We don't even have a decision yet, and already Eastman is trending on Twitter.

 

We've been told that Eastman will not be appearing personally in court this afternoon. He is expected to remain at the prison, and if the verdict and any other decisions go his way, he would be released from there later tonight. Of course, we are still a way from that yet.

It's not just the courts that are preparing for this decision. The Alexander Maconochie Centre might be losing one of its most high-profile prisoners, and it is expecting plenty of media attention, too.

If you are wondering what this is all about, Christopher Knaus has been following the inquiry closely and put together this explainer. He goes through the case against Eastman, the problems with it and the various theories about what else might have happened that night if Eastman was not the killer.

You can read it here.

It's still a little while until the judges will deliver their decision, but already there's a large press pack gathering outside the court. There is a lot of interest in this case, not just here in Canberra but across the country.

It has been 25 years since two bullets, fired in the quiet of a sleepy Deakin night, ended the age of innocence in Australia.

The cold-blooded murder of Colin Stanley Winchester, the ACT region's police chief, is one of Australia's most notorious and hotly debated crimes.

An inquiry earlier this year recommended the conviction of disgruntled public servant David Harold Eastman - imprisoned for the crime almost 19 years ago - be quashed.

At 2.15pm,  Justices Michael Wigney, Steven Rares and Dennis Cowdroy will hand down their decision on whether David Eastman's conviction for the murder of Colin Winchester will stand, or if he should be set free or re-tried.

Join us here at canberratimes.com.au as we bring you the latest on the ruling.

Poll: Should David Eastman face a retrial over the murder of ACT police chief Colin Stanley Winchester?

Poll form
  1. Please select an answer.
  2. View results
Yes, one way or another it needs to be revisited.

44%

No, it's too long since it happened and we've lost much of the evidence and witnesses from that time.

47%

I don't know.

9%

Total votes: 1747.

Would you like to vote?

You will need Cookies enabled to use our Voting Feature.

Disclaimer:

These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.

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David Eastman leaves the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra.Click to play video

Video

David Eastman leaves prison after conviction quashed

David Eastman has been released on bail after a court ruled he did not get a fair trial on charges he murdered Police Commissioner Colin Winchester. He left court in a maroon sedan, with a blanket over his head.

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