Empty shells never checked for fingerprints, murder trial told

Empty shells never checked for fingerprints, murder trial told

A forensics expert threw every possible technique he could at the scene of Colin Winchester’s alleged murder in the attempts to uncover fingerprints from all manner of surfaces, a jury heard Thursday.

But there was once exception - the two spent bullet cartridges police found lying on the grassy strip alongside the police chief’s car, where the man was slumped dead in the driver’s seat.

“I was never given the chance to examine them,” fingerprint expert Terrence Nesbitt said of the cartridges.

Mr Nesbitt told the court he would have gone to “the ends of the Earth” to examine an item potentially handled by the perpetrator of the crime.

Prosecutors allege it was former public servant David Harold Eastman who used a Ruger 10/22 to shoot Mr Winchester twice in the head after he pulled into his neighbour’s Deakin driveway.


Mr Eastman, 72, has pleaded not guilty to the murder.

Mr Nesbitt told the ACT Supreme Court on Thursday, the 24th day of Mr Eastman's trial, that he and a colleague performed an extensive search for fingerprints at the scene, including the car, a tree and fencing.

“We looked like purple leopards,” he said, in reference to the products they used to develop prints.

He said when police found the two empty cartridge cases in the grass there was “jubilance”.

But he said that unfortunately he never got hold of the two cases to examine them for fingerprints.

He said there were techniques available to develop fingerprints without damaging the evidence.

Mr Nesbitt told the court that, for some vindication, he later undertook a test to see whether or not fingerprints would survive the process of being fitted and fired from the gun.

He test fired 200 bullets from a Ruger 10/22 and collected the shells.

The fingerprint expert collected the 200 shells and placed each on a nail on a wooden board. The prints weren’t visible at first with the use of a forensic light.

But he put the board in a sealed container and introduced superglue. He told the court superglue fumes form a gas that reacts with the moisture in fingerprints, and develops the fingerprints.

Mr Nesbitt told the court that in test firings of a Ruger 10/22, some fingerprint "friction ridge impressions" had survived on cartridge cases being fired from the gun.

In his testing, he said he found the impressions on two of the 200 rounds he had test fired, confirming that fingerprints can survive the process of being fired.

But he also told the court that there was not enough detail to be able to compare the ridges on the cartridges to a set of fingerprints.

He agreed that if someone had picked up the cartridges with bare hands they may have left fingerprints.

The court has heard different accounts of how the cartridges were handled at the scene.

Acting superintendent Peter Nelipa said he saw another officer pick up the cartridges up with his bare hands.

But Ian Prior, the officer who picked up the cartridges, told the court he had used surgical gloves. He had also told prosecutors during a briefing that he had used tweezers to pick them up, the court heard.

Another fingerprint expert, the Australian Federal Police's Philip Herd, told the court that in 2015 he was asked to analyse 179 latent fingerprints collected during the investigation into the murder of Mr Winchester.

Mr Herd said that he found two of those 179 latent fingerprints matched to Mr Eastman - the latent prints had been collected from a gun referred to as the "Bradshaw' rifle, and the rifle's cardboard box.

Mr Eastman's connection to that gun is not disputed.

The trial continues.

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times

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