David Eastman was not a wealthy man. Before his two decades in prison, and afterwards, he lived in public housing and survived on a government pension. Those days may now be over.
On Monday, in a landmark decision, the ACT Supreme Court ordered the ACT government to pay the former treasury official more than $7 million in compensation, in connection to his conviction for the 1989 murder of Canberra's police chief Colin Winchester.
Mr Eastman's conviction was quashed in 2014 following a judicial inquiry that found he suffered a miscarriage of justice. After a second trial late last year, a jury of 12 found him not guilty of the same charge.
Mr Eastman, 74, was not in court to hear the result of his claim against the government. His solicitor Sam Tierney, said afterwards that the court had confirmed that the territory's Human Rights Act conferred a right on people wrongfully convicted to be compensated.
The ACT government has 28 days to appeal the decision. Chief Minister Andrew Barr said in a statement: "The ACT Government is considering the judgement and will respond promptly."
"Whether or not this is the end of the matter, we'll have to wait for that appeal period to expire to see," Mr Tierney said outside court.
"I think Mr Eastman's relieved and very happy that the court has so promptly considered his matter.
"He's lost a significant chunk of his life and he's obviously got some thoughts in mind about what he might do with it, but we'll have to wait and see.
"Mr Eastman also expresses his wishes that he would like to now get on with the rest of his life, if possible."
Justice Michael Elkaim agreed with Mr Eastman that he had easily met the conditions in s23 of the ACT's Human Rights Act giving rise to his right of compensation for wrongful conviction.
The government's defence, that Mr Eastman's conviction had not been "reversed" and that there had not been a miscarriage of justice, was implausible, Justice Elkaim said.
"The plaintiff started off as an innocent person. He then became a convicted person. On 22 August 2014 he returned to being an innocent person. His conviction was unequivocally reversed.
"The fact that a second trial could perhaps have led to him returning to being a convicted person is beside the point. When the conviction was quashed it was reversed."
As for the government's second point, Justice Elkaim referred to the judicial inquiry into Mr Eastman's conviction, and the court's decision to accept its findings. Both in inquiry and court made plain that the discovery of baseless evidence showed "conclusively that there had been a miscarriage of justice".
That baseless evidence was that of forensic expert Robert Barnes, who had linked gunshot particles from the scene of the murder to Mr Eastman's car.
The court described the evidence as "completely untrustworthy, and ought not to [have been] allowed to enter into the reasons for any verdict of guilty".
After a murder investigation, two criminal trials, a coronial inquest and a civil trial, Mr Eastman, who once had a promising career as an economist in the Commonwealth government, can now turn his eye to the future. The court at his civil trial heard he still hopes for employment, and a partner, though accepts fatherhood is now likely out of reach.
Mr Eastman has always protested his innocence.
After Assistant Commissioner Winchester was shot twice in the head at point blank range as he got out of his car at home in Deakin, police homed in on Mr Eastman, a disgruntled public servant forced to medically retire, who was angry with the police for charging him with an assault that could hinder his much-desired return to the public service, as suspect number one.
He was charged, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of the police chief, the most senior police officer to have been assassinated in Australia.
After his appeals failed he pursued a final option; a judicial inquiry into his conviction. That inquiry found he had suffered a miscarriage of justice, because fatally flawed evidence had been allowed to go in against him at his criminal trial.
He was retried on the same allegation last year, nearly 20 years after the first, and this time the jury of 12 found him not guilty as charged.
He launched into the previously paused suit against the ACT government for compensation under the ACT Human Rights Act. During the hearing earlier this month, the court heard Treasurer Andrew Barr had offered Mr Eastman an act of grace payment worth $3.8 million.
- The inside story of David Eastman's murder trial
- David Eastman in his own words on the murder investigation, two trials and almost 20 years in jail
- David Eastman wants $18 million in compensation for wrongful imprisonment
- If David Eastman didn't murder Colin Winchester, then who did?
- David Eastman the victim of violent assaults while in prison, compensation trial hears
The payment, had Mr Eastman not rejected it, came with conditions that he discontinue his compensation suit against the government and sign away certain legal rights.
Instead, he had continued with the suit and claimed upwards of $14 million in compensation. At the hearing his lawyers tendered a lengthy statement from Mr Eastman detailing his time in prison, his time in isolation, assaults, a suicide attempt and the witnessing of a prisoner's suicide and of another's murder. "I could not believe the extent of the brutality and barbarity which existed through the whole of the prison system," he wrote.
Justice Elkaim found $5 million, plus interest, was an appropriate figure. He said there was no formula or established pathway to the assessment of compensation. Justice Elkaim said he took into account a number of factors, loss of working life and economic capacity, insult to reputation and the need to compensation Mr Eastman for the wrongfulness of his imprisonment to arrive at the figure. It worked out to about $267,000 per year of imprisonment, though the judge did not agree that an annual rate was applicable.
It is a landmark decision. Compensation under the Human Rights Act has not previously been awarded and the bounds of compensation have not been previously set.