Dupas verdict more relief than triumph
It has taken two trials, two appeals, a million-dollar reward, several police investigations and 15 years to finally convict the man who killed Mersina Halvagis in the Fawkner Cemetery back in 1997, but in the end it came down to just one phone call.
In June 2005, former high-flying lawyer Andrew Fraser was just another inmate - serving time over cocaine offences - when he was summoned to the guard post at Fulham Prison, Sale, to take a phone call.
Rejected ... Peter Dupas in 2005. Photo: John Donegan
It was from Senior Detective Paul Scarlett who was reinvestigating the Halvagis case and knew Fraser had spent more than a year in the same Port Phillip Prison as the main suspect, Peter Norris Dupas.
For the policeman the call was more about tying up loose ends. The whisper was Fraser had acted as the serial killer's unpaid legal advisor so no one thought the former lawyer would offer assistance.
"I was furious with him, actually," Scarlett recalled. "I couldn't believe he would help someone like that. I expected the call to be short. I thought he'd tell me to get lost and hang up."
The inquest into the Halvagis case was about to start and the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Coghlan, had made it clear that while it was obvious Dupas was the killer, police lacked the evidence to lay charges.
But that was about to change.
When Scarlett explained the reason for the call, Fraser responded: "What took you so long?"
Fraser would make a statement that he had witnessed Dupas mime a confession in his prison cell, indicating how he had stabbed Ms Halvagis as she was tending her grandmothers's grave in November 1997.
It was the breakthrough police needed.
When Coghlan (now a Supreme Court Justice) read the new material he decided to charge Dupas.
"Without Fraser's evidence of Dupas's confession there would not have been a prosecution," Coghlan said later.
In fact the former prosecutor underplays his own roll. Dupas had already been convicted of two murders (Margaret Maher, October 1997, and Nicole Patterson, April 1999) and sentenced to life with no minimum.
The Halvagis trial would be expensive and, in terms of punishment, useless. Dupas was never getting out, so what was the point?
Coghlan grasped that the Halvagis family deserved their day in court and so he ran the trial. Dupas was convicted - a verdict quashed on appeal.
Again the Office of Public Prosecutions ran the retrial, again he was convicted and again he appealed.
On Friday he learned he had lost this appeal and the conviction would stand. He now knows he will spend the rest of his life imprisoned with his own demons.
For the Halvagis family it was more relief than triumph. Father George has spent years campaigning over his daughter's case and on behalf of other victims.
A regular visitor to the Supreme Court and on first-name terms with many of its staff he exudes sadness and dignity in equal measure.
Over the years he lobbied politicians and police to make sure the case was not forgotten. First there was a $50,000 reward, then $100,000 and finally $1 million.
There are several witnesses who will now be considered for a slice of the reward including Fraser.
Many police still hate him. When he was a criminal lawyer they saw him as far too close to his gangster clients. They (not so quietly) rejoiced when he went inside.
But without him, Dupas would never have been convicted. For the sake of the integrity of the system, Fraser, now battling cancer, must be paid big bucks.
Many have complained at how Dupas has been able to drag out the case since he was first convicted back in 2007.
But the justice system is not a popularity poll and those accused of the worst crimes are given the same protection as anyone else.
Dupas was always entitled to ask the question.
Yesterday five justices at the Court of Appeal gave him the answer. You are guilty.
Which shows that even though it took 15 years, the system works.