Baden-Clay: 'justice has been done'
Police suspected Gerard Baden-Clay murdered his wife "very early in the piece" while Allison's family will "grieve her tragic death forever".PT3M15S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3bywp 620 349 July 15, 2014
A key defence witness in the trial of Gerard Baden-Clay was once named as a “co-conspirator” in a United States killing, dubbed the “American Beauty murder”, Fairfax Media can reveal.
Forensic toxicologist Dr Michael Robertson was called to give evidence by Mr Baden-Clay’s defence team.
Mr Baden-Clay has been found guilty of murdering his wife Allison at their home in the affluent western Brisbane suburb of Brookfield on April 19, 2012, and dumping her body on the muddy banks of Kholo Creek, 14 kilometres away.
Kristin Rossum is escorted by a sheriff's deputy in 2002.
Dr Robertson reviewed the results of a post-mortem examination conducted on Allison Baden-Clay's body and suggested the mother-of-three may have suffered “Serotonin Syndrome”, causing her to hallucinate on the night she was last seen alive.
He said excessive levels of the antidepressant drug Sertraline, sold as Zoloft, could cause Serotonin Syndrome, prompting unusual behaviour and profound confusion.
Dr Robertson was among the final witnesses to be called to testify.
Allison and Gerard Baden-Clay, with their three children. Photo: Supplied
The defence seized upon his testimony, suggesting Mrs Baden-Clay took her own life in the early hours of April 20, 2012, while under the adverse effects of Zoloft.
It also suggested Mrs Baden-Clay may have died as a result of misadventure or accident, brought about by medication.
However, the jury never heard that Dr Robertson was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 2000 murder of Gregory de Villers in San Diego, California.
Mr de Villers’ wife Kristin Rossum was convicted in 2002 of murdering her husband and attempting to make his death look like a suicide.
Dr Robertson was embroiled in an affair with Ms Rossum. He was the head of the toxicology laboratory at the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, where she worked as a junior toxicologist.
Prosecutors in Rossum’s trial alleged Dr Robertson helped his then-lover steal the highly-toxic drug fentanyl from the laboratory, which she administered to her husband to kill him.
Evidence included passionate emails exchanged between Dr Robertson and Rossum, as well as computer files and professional writings revealing Dr Robertson’s specialist knowledge of fentanyl.
Rossum maintained her husband took his own life after learning of her affair and fearing their marriage would end.
The case was dubbed the “American Beauty murder” because Mr de Villers' chest was covered in red rose petals, reminiscent of a scene in the 1999 movie.
Prosecutor Dan Goldstein said Dr Robertson was "inextricably wound up in the case" and protected Rossum "in every way".
But Dr Robertson has never been charged.
Dr Robertson returned to Australia before Rossum’s trial, because his job-related visa expired. He did not testify for his ex-lover and declined to take a lie detector test.
He too was married when he and Rossum began their affair in the spring of 2000, two months after he began working in San Diego and less than a year after she married Mr de Villers.
He has since divorced, remarried and relocated with his family to Brisbane, where he works as an independent forensic consultant for hire, compiling toxicology reports for legal practitioners for $800 to $1500.
When contacted by Fairfax Media, the toxicologist said he had never received a summons from US authorities alleging his involvement in the crime, but he declined to comment further.
“That’s many years ago,” he said.
Dr Roberston told Mr Baden-Clay’s trial of the possible adverse effects of Sertraline.
“When you get too much of this drug you can get cases of more profound confusion, increased agitation, unusual behaviours,” Dr Robertson said.
He said Mrs Baden-Clay was found with 0.59 milligrams per kilogram of Sertraline in her system after her death.
Dr Robertson said it was “unusual” for levels of the drug to be higher than 0.05 milligrams per kilogram in a person taking a prescribed therapeutic dose.
But he conceded drug concentrations in the body usually changed after death due to a process known as “post-mortem redistribution”.
He also conceded the level of Sertraline found in Mrs Baden-Clay’s body was inconsistent with levels typically found in Serotonin-related deaths.
“I can’t explain the elevated drug concentrations completely ... whether they indirectly had some involvement [in her death] I don’t know,” Dr Robertson said.