David Eastman found not guilty of murdering senior AFP officer nearly three decades ago

| 22.11,18. 03:06 PM |



David Eastman found not guilty of murdering senior AFP officer nearly three decades ago


Photo: David Eastman was tried for the second time over the death of senior AFP officer Colin Winchester. (ABC News: Jordan Hayne)

David Eastman, who spent nearly 20 years in jail over the killing of one of the country's top cops, has been found not guilty of the murder after a retrial.


A jury found Mr Eastman, now 73, not guilty of murdering senior Australian Federal Police officer Colin Winchester nearly three decades ago.


The not guilty verdict in the packed ACT Supreme Court marked the end of a six-month trial and just over a week of deliberating.


The tension among police, court staff, journalists and spectators who had spent many days listening to the evidence was palpable.


Mr Eastman looked stressed until the verdict was read.


His mouth appeared to quiver and there was an audible gasp from the public gallery.


The former public servant spent 19 years in jail after a first trial found him guilty of shooting Mr Winchester as he got out of his car near his house in 1989.


But a 2014 inquiry found flaws in the original forensic evidence had led to a miscarriage of justice, causing Mr Eastman to be tried a second time.


The ACT Government had invested millions of dollars in proceedings against Mr Eastman, allocating dedicated funding in recent territory budgets.


Taxpayers forked out $6.5 million for this year's re-trial.


In the past decade, legal proceedings surrounding the trial cost upwards of $30m.


The prosecutor's 2018 case argued there were "too many coincidences" for anyone else to have been the killer, that Mr Eastman had a motive because Mr Winchester refused to help him out of career-damaging assault charges, and that he had made threats against police.


It relied heavily on tapes of Mr Eastman talking to himself in his home — which the prosecution said included admissions.


The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) also drew on evidence he had looked through the Canberra Times classifieds for a gun, as well as witness sightings of a car similar to Mr Eastman's in a street near the murder scene days before the shooting.


But the theory of a motive was rejected by the defence, which claimed the killing was a mafia hit related to Mr Winchester's investigation of drug crops near Canberra.


It also questioned the "admission" tapes, claiming they were of too poor quality to be used as evidence.


Police at the time said they found no link between the killing and Italian crime groups, while the prosecution stressed the unlikelihood a professional hit man would buy a gun from a Queanbeyan dealer.


During the trial — which consisted of 36,000 pages of evidence, more than 100 witnesses and dozens of statements — Mr Eastman was allowed to sit behind his lawyers.


But today he sat in the dock for the first time.


The jury went home early yesterday, saying they wanted time to contemplate the case overnight.


After returning this morning, they unanimously found Mr Eastman not guilty of Mr Winchester's murder.


Winchester family has 'been to hell and back'


A statement released on behalf of the Winchester family read:


"We believe the verdict is wrong and we are extremely disappointed given the significant volume of compelling evidence.


"We acknowledge the DPP and the AFP for their professionalism and determination."


Outside the court on Thursday, a spokesman for the Winchester family added to these statements, saying 30 years was "a long time to carry not only grief, but two trials, a full commission of inquiry, and [an] appeal to the Federal Court, an appeal to the High Court".


"They have been to hell and back," former ACT victims of crime commissioner John Hinchey said.


"The justice system is a difficult system to participate in and experience. They would be gutted, I would imagine."


Miscarriage of justice now corrected: Eastman's lawyer


Mr Eastman's lawyer Angus Webb also read out a statement, saying a miscarriage of justice had left Mr Eastman spending 19 years in custody.


Referring to today's verdict he wrote:


"Justice has been done."


Echoing this sentiment, a former public defender who previously acted for Mr Eastman, Terry O'Donnell, said outside his court that he had been watching the legal saga "with some horror," but was now relieved for Mr Eastman.


"The first trial was an absolute disgrace, it was a shambles, it was a miscarriage — the forensic evidence was almost certainly fabricated in some respects," he said.


Asked if he thought the investigation into who killed Mr Winchester should be reopened, Mr O'Donnell stressed that most people involved had died.


"It's so long ago, the witnesses I know are alive are subject to suppression and protection orders, and a lot of the people are dead, the investigating police from Armadale are dead, Mrs Winchester is dead," he said.


"There's too much water under the bridge to get to grips to it."


Key moments of the David Eastman case


Assistant Australian Federal Police Commissioner Colin Stanley Winchester is shot twice in the head as he gets out of his car. Police and media immediately call it an assassination and the ACT's biggest ever police investigation is launched.


May, 1989


An inquest into the death opens and runs for more than two years.


December, 1991


The coronial inquest returns an open finding, but does reopen 11 months later to consider new evidence.


December 23, 1992


The Coroner orders David Eastman's arrest. He is met at his flat by investigators and a media throng. He yells: "Completely innocent. Federal police frame-up" as he is led away in handcuffs.


December 24, 1992


David Harold Eastman is charged in court with the murder of Colin Winchester.


May 2, 1995


The trial of David Eastman over the murder of Colin Winchester begins, but the jury is not empanelled until May 16.


June 29, 1995


David Eastman's bail is revoked in the middle of the trial after frequent clashes with the Justice Ken Carruthers, who accused him of disrupting the proceedings. One of Mr Eastman's lawyers, Winston Terracini, is repeatedly sacked and reinstated from June to October. Justice Carruthers orders Mr Eastman placed in a separate room with a two-way television on which he can control the volume if Mr Eastman tries to interrupt.


November 3, 1995


The jury finds David Eastman guilty of the murder of Colin Winchester.


November 10, 1995


David Eastman is sentenced to life in prison, he will spend time in the notorious Goulburn Jail, before moving to Canberra's Alexander Maconochie Centre after it opens in 2009.


June 25, 1997


David Eastman begins his long fight against the conviction, lodging his first appeal to the Federal Court. It is the first of many appeals, one of which makes it all the way to the High Court.


May 31, 2001


ACT Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Miles orders a judicial inquiry into the case, setting off a raft of appeals from David Eastman and the Director of Public Prosecutions.


October 6, 2005


Chief Justice Jeffrey Miles finds David Eastman is fit to stand trial. Challenges to the finding are launched but all fail.


September 3, 2012


Federal Court Justice Shane Marshall orders an inquiry into the conviction of David Eastman for the murder of Colin Winchester.


May 31, 2014


Justice Brian Martin releases his report finding there was a substantial miscarriage of justice, and urging the conviction against David Eastman be quashed. He finds the forensic evidence on which he was convicted was deeply flawed. Justice Martin is also of the view that a retrial would not be feasible.


August 22, 2014


The ACT Supreme Court quashes David Eastman's conviction and he is released from jail after nearly 19 years behind bars. The ACT Supreme Court deviates from the inquiry's recommendations and orders a fresh trial.


April 14, 2016


Justice David Ashley throws out a stay application on the murder charge, but keeps his reasons secret. In fact most of the hearing is held in secret. David Eastman lodges an appeal which is heard by three Victorian Judges, it also fails. He then takes the issue to the High Court, but it is thrown out at first base.


December 1, 2016


Former Victorian Supreme Court Justice Murray Kellam is appointed to run the trial of David Eastman. After being scheduled to begin in July 2017, it is put off until June 2018. Justice Kellam will preside over frequent directions hearings in the lead-up to the trial.


June 4, 2018


A new jury is empanelled from 500 candidates. The jury pool is so large it is forced to convene at Albert Hall where David Eastman is arraigned.


June 5, 2018


Justice Murray Kellam lays down the law to 16 jurors, telling them it may be stressful, and ordering them to put their affairs in order before the trial start on June 18.


June 18, 2018


David Eastman faces trial for a second time over the murder of Colin Winchester. He is allowed to sit at a desk at the back of the court where he listens carefully. He has his own screen to view videos and images, and makes occasional notes to pass to his lawyer George Georgiou.


November 22, 2018


David Eastman is found not guilty of the murder after a six-month trial and more than a week of jury deliberations.


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