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David Eastman verdict unease from day one

Reflecting on an unsatisfactory conviction of a deeply troubled man.

Dissatisfaction about David Eastman's trial and conviction began on the day he was found guilty, as Jack Waterford wrote on November 4, 1995:

The jury's verdict will not remove all the doubts about who killed Colin Winchester. So unsatisfactory was the trial, though thanks in major part to the disruptive tactics of the man who has been found guilty, that many will wonder about what has been proved.

David Eastman disrupted proceedings repeatedly and frustrated any presentation of what case others might put in his favour. He seemed sometimes to want to be found guilty, if only to confirm his view of the conspiracy arrayed against him.

Yet that very disrupted case, Eastman's own clear incapacity to judge his best interests, and the fact that for much of the time no defence case was put, all make the verdict seriously unsatisfactory.

The risk that it would be so was there from the beginning with a decision to admit tape recordings of the monologues of a clearly deeply-disturbed man. The forensic probity of these recordings, whatever they said (and the differences of view about that underlined the dubious wisdom of allowing them in), was always highly doubtful but their prejudicial value was very high.

The fact that there was little cross-examination of the forensic evidence about the gun is also of serious concern.

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One cannot, of course, blame the Crown for the antics of Eastman, and the apparent reluctance of the trial judge himself to test evidence that went uncross-examined may be explainable by Eastman's aggressive tactics. Eastman has a formidable brain and was, mostly, clearly across what was occurring and witting about the opportunities he was letting go.

Yet he is also a person moved quickly to rage and to paranoiac manifestations and, at the end of the day, he was not legally qualified.

It might have been Eastman's fault, but most of the case that might have been mounted in his favour was not heard. Even, his final address to the jury was heard by the jury several weeks before it went off to consider its verdict.

The judge, who had a discretion otherwise, adhered to the ACT's quaint and unjustifiable custom of giving the Crown the last say. Indeed, despite a well-established rule of practice that the Crown not address - in the interests of fairness - when the accused is unrepresented, the Crown addressed for days after Eastman, and the judge for days after that.

It might have been Eastman's fault that the case for him was hardly put, but if that fault arose from his psychiatric condition, ought that resolve the issue? In no ordinary sense was Eastman unfit to plead - most of the time he was quite lucid and acute.

Yet a case could have been mounted that he was unfit, on psychological grounds, to instruct counsel. In a normal case, a barrister appearing for a client has - and needs - a fairly free hand. Eastman, who seemed incapable of judging his own best interests, insisted that barristers did exactly as he said and sacked them if they did not.

That the court could not appoint a barrister to represent Eastman's interests (one not bound to follow his instructions) might be one of the reasons why the result is so unconvincing.

Colin Winchester was a decent man and his assassination was a terrible thing.

If David Eastman was the man who killed him - and he could have, for all of my doubt that anyone has proved that he did so - then he deserves whatever punishment is appropriate to his sad condition.

If he did not kill him, one does no justice to the memory of Colin Winchester to be loyal to the case that was assembled.

 
By JACK WATERFORD
 
The jury's verdict will not remove all the doubts about who killed Colin Winchester. So unsatisfactory was the trial, though thanks in major part to the disruptive tactics of the man who has been found guilty, that many will wonder about what has been proved.
 
David Eastman disrupted proceedings repeatedly and frustrated any presentation of what case others might put in his favour. He seemed sometimes to want to be found guilty, if only to confirm his view of the conspiracy arrayed against him.
 
Yet that very disrupted case, Eastman's own clear incapacity to judge his best interests, and the fact that for much of the time no defence case was put, all make the verdict seriously unsatisfactory
 
The risk that it would be so was there from the beginning with a decision to admit tape recordings of the monologues of a clearly deeply-disturbed man. The forensic probity of these recordings, whatever they said (and the differences of view about that underlined the dubious wisdom of allowing them in), was always highly doubtful but their prejudicial value was very high.
 
The fact that there was little cross-examination of the forensic evidence about the gun is also of serious concern.
 
One cannot, of course, blame the Crown for the antics of East man, and the apparent reluctance of the trial judge himself to test evidence that went uncross-examined may be explainable by East man's aggressive tactics. Eastman has a formidable brain and was, mostly, clearly across what was occurring and witting about the opportunities he was letting go.
 
Yet he is. also a person moved quickly to rage and to paranoiac manifestations and, at the end of the day, he was not legally qualified.
 
It might have been Eastman's fault, but most of the case that " might have been mounted in his favour was not heard. Even, his final address to the jury was heard by it several weeks before it went off to consider: its verdict.
 
The judge, who had a discretion otherwise, adhered to the ACT's quaint and unjustifiable custom of giving the Crown the last say. Indeed, despite a well-established rule of practice that the Crown not address — in the interests of fairness — when the accused is unrepresented, the Crown addressed for days after Eastman, and the judge for days after that.
 
It might have been Eastman's fault that the case for him was hardly put, but if that fault arose from his psychiatric condition, ought that resolve the issue? In no ordinary sense was Eastman unfit to plead — most of the time he was quite lucid and acute.
 
Yet a case could have been mounted that he was unfit, on psychological grounds, to instruct counsel. In a normal case, a barrister appearing for a client has — and needs — a fairly free hand. Eastman, who seemed incapable of judging his own best interests, insisted that barristers did exactly as he said and sacked them if they did not.
 
That the court could not appoint a barrister to represent Eastman's interests (one not bound to follow his instructions) might be one of the reasons why the result is so unconvincing.
 
Colin Winchester was a decent man and his assassination was a terrible thing.
 
If David Eastman was the man who killed him — and he could have, for all of my doubt that anyone has proved that he did so — then he deserves whatever punishment is appropriate to his sad condition.
 
If he did not kill him, one does no justice to the memory of Colin Winchester to be loyal to the case that was assembled.