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2450 days in prison for a murder he didn't commit

Date

Douglas Jensen wrongly spent almost seven years in jail for murdering his father, and he's still fighting for justice. Here is his story, as told to Susan Chenery.

Circumstantial evidence: Douglas Jensen is taken to court by police, charged with his father's murder.

Circumstantial evidence: Douglas Jensen is taken to court by police, charged with his father's murder.

On February 2, 2000, 72-year-old Marius Jensen was found dead from a single shotgun wound in the kitchen of his farm house in Tarrington, south-west Victoria, where he lived with his son, Douglas. His other son, Colin, now 53, had recently moved out after falling out with his father and Marius taking out an intervention order against him.

Given Marius, a beekeeper, was depressed, behaving erratically, facing financial ruin because his beehives had been infected and grieving for his wife, his son believed it was suicide.

I had gone from maximum security prisoner to free man in less than 20 seconds. 

Douglas Jensen

Nevertheless Douglas Jensen, now 47, was arrested and charged with his murder four years after the death. After conducting his own appeal he was acquitted almost seven years later. Jensen was a country boy who had lived with his father all his life and had never touched alcohol.

Time served: Douglas Jensen believes he is owed compensation for being wrongly jailed.

Time served: Douglas Jensen believes he is owed compensation for being wrongly jailed. Photo: Penny Stephens

***

When I first realised my father was dead there was a feeling of disbelief and loss. I found him in the kitchen of our house.

The true reality embedded itself at the Hamilton police station in the early hours of February 3, 2000, when Homicide Detective Constable Leigh Smyth told me: ‘‘We believe he may have been murdered.’’

The police did not accuse me of murdering my father, they asked me if I had killed him. This is my father we are talking about, the very person who gave me life and helped raise me.

On the evening of February 2, Detective Sergeant Lindsay Pickering, of the Hamilton police, asked me in a raised voice if I had killed my father. Pickering’s question was humiliating, insulting and struck at the very core of my existence. I told Pickering what I thought of the question and stated, ‘‘No, I did not kill my father’’.

Sympathy is not something that I have ever experienced while dealing with the police.

The realisation of my suspect status came after being arrested on February 19 for suspicion of murder and released after a ‘‘no comment under advice’’ interview.

***

On February 26, the Homicide Squad seized items on the properties. In August 2001, it fitted listening and tracking devices to Jensen and his brother Colin’s house and vehicle. Finding the devices, the brothers led the police on wild car chases in acts of defiance.

***

On May 7, 2004 [four years after his father died], I was arrested and charged with murdering my father. The committal started on January 31, 2005, and ran until February 3.

The magistrate committed me to stand trial on a case composed of circumstantial evidence, a fingerprint on a yellow envelope discovered in August 2001, no DNA, no witnesses and no evidence of gunshot residue on my hands.

The first trial started in Warrnambool on May 8, 2006. At one point I gave evidence and a test [on a pot-bellied stove that had been burning on the night of the death] that had been conducted by an acting inspector of the homicide squad was thrown out.

At the very last moment a female police sergeant from Warrnambool urgently requested entry to the court with some news that would abort the trial. Someone had printed stickers saying that I was guilty and they were found plastered up around Warrnambool.

The next trial was set down for February 2007.

***

A 2009 appeal court eventually rejected Jensen’s argument that he had not been fit to stand trial. The appeal court also ruled out his other arguments that a combination of errors on the part of the trial judge, the prosecution and the defence had denied him a fair trial.

***

The judge gave his instructions to the jury and within a few hours they returned a guilty verdict. I was sentenced on June 13 to 20 years’ prison with a non-parole period of 16 years, giving a release date of Monday, April 28, 2020.

Going to prison is an insult to any form of dignity or humanity that you are in possession of or have maintained throughout your life. Strip searches are purely humiliating and insulting. The realisation of the lack of freedom comes when they turn the key in that door and you know that you can’t get out.

I first entered the Melbourne Assessment Prison (MAP) on May 12. I would be living with another male in a two-person cell. To say that prison is daunting is a pathetic understatement. I was a ‘‘new chum’’ – someone who has never been in prison before.

I came from a rural background and had hardly ever seen a tattoo. In the first two days I saw enough tattoos to carpet a three-bedroom house.

I spoke to some people and within a few days I had been stripped of nearly everything I had by parasites who wear the clothes of humans.

I decided that the word ‘‘No’’ would be used a lot more to stop being stripped of goods.

On June 16, I was moved to Port Philip Prison in Laverton. I didn’t even make it through the reception area before someone decided that I should be kept in a cell with human faeces smeared on one wall and a block of concrete in the corner to sleep on.

Unless you have experienced custody you cannot understand the physiological or psychological impact that it has upon you. Management decided that due to my medical condition of being unable to tolerate loud noise I was to be placed in a unit called ‘‘Borrowdale’’.

I entered this unit on June 30 and was placed in a cell with a young man who had been charged with burning a man to death on the banks of the Murray River at Mildura.

I was as green as cucumber and had no idea of how things functioned. Borrowdale functioned on legal drugs and illegal drugs.

***

Other prisoners asked Jensen to save the Seraquil and Imovane he had been prescribed by hiding them under his tongue during inspections.

***

This went on for about a week then I missed one night. I was invited to a cell next morning and three people punched shit out of me for not saving the pills. I was covered in cuts and bruises from the beating.

 In the 2 years I spent in Borrowdale there were two attempted suicides, two rapes and two consensual male relationships between other inmates. One fellow was getting night-time visits from two female officers who were subsequently sacked. I was forced to accept the possibility of becoming infected with HIV and hepatitis.

I was moved back to Port Philip Prison on July 4 after my second trial to begin the remaining years of my sentence and placed in a two-out cell with a transgender man. There I was in a male prison sitting in a cell with a man who has a set of breasts.

On August 2, I was moved to Barwon Prison near Geelong, the state’s highest security prison. The trip down to Barwon was filled with  foreboding and I had heard stories of its violence and how it was called the ‘‘glue factory’’ as people had trouble leaving it. I studied whatever was available – engineering, horticulture, creative writing, electrical, computers and small business management.

In early February 2008, I received notification that Legal Aid funding for an appeal had been denied. Legal Aid told me that it was the prosecution’s right to call or not call witnesses and nothing was done wrong in the trial. In the second denial they said it would not be in the public interest to fund an appeal, no reasons given.

It was suggested that I represent myself in the appeal court and that seemed impossible.

Slowly I came to the realisation that if I was going to have any chance of getting a retrial and possibly going home this is what I would have to do.

In late March 2009, I received an appeal hearing date of May 18. I was going to represent myself with no legal training at all before three senior Supreme Court judges and argue my case.

Several months later I received the appeal hearing date for October 18. I was cross-examined by the prosecution and questioned by the judges. My cross-examination went at a snail’s pace and once completed I got to utter the immortal words ‘‘No further questions’’.

On Tuesday, November 24, 2009, at 9.30am, after he sat  down at the bench, Judge Nettle boomed out the following: ‘‘In the matter of Jensen v Queen it is the judgment of this court that the conviction be quashed and a retrial be had’’. It was a unanimous decision.

***

In October 2009, three Justices in the Supreme Court of Appeal –  Nettle, Weinberg and Hollingworth –  found a ‘‘very substantial miscarriage of justice’’. They found that the Crown’s failure to call his brother, Colin Jensen, as a witness ‘‘deprived him of a chance of acquittal to which he was entitled’’. They stated: ‘‘If Colin Jensen’s evidence were accepted, it had the potential to increase the possibility of suicide and, if suicide were rejected, to reduce the possibility that the applicant was the culprit.’’

Colin Jensen, their Honours stated, had a motive, he had threatened to kill his father and he had the capacity to make a weapon. ‘‘When one adds that it also deprived him of the ability to cross-examine Colin Jensen as to the latter’s motive and opportunity to kill the deceased, the injustice was very substantial,’’ the judges found.

Colin Jensen would appear at the retrial in February 2011 and vehemently deny that he was anywhere near the property when his father died.

***

The third trial started on February 1, 2011, and was presided over by Justice Stephen Kaye. [Defence barrister] Christopher Dane QC’s closing address started slowly and he built himself into a crescendo of operatic proportions with him ripping and tearing the prosecution case to shreds at every interval. He attacked members of the homicide squad as demonising me and stated that they did not know what it was like to ‘‘spend years in prison forced to live with other men’’.

 ‘‘The evidence tells you the level of the injustice.’’

 I can remember Dane screaming at the prosecutor at a quiet time in court: ‘‘You cannot connect him to the firearm, you have put that firearm in his hand, you cannot do that.’’

 On the morning of February 25 I showered and shaved as I had done for every morning of the 2450 days I had spent in custody. The jury came in with their verdict: ‘‘Not guilty’’. I had gone from maximum security prisoner to free man in less than 20 seconds.  

The feeling of freedom was odd. It didn’t bring me any gratification – all it did was end my 6 years in custody.

***

Soon after his release, Douglas Jensen submitted a claim to the Victoria Attorney General for financial compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The claim was denied. Jensen was informed that the Attorney General was not obliged to give a reason.

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