Wednesday, September 21, 2016
David Szach: South Australia; Bulletin; He has launched an appeal of his conviction in what became known as the 'body-in-a-freezer' case - a case in which the notorious former pathologist Dr. Colin Manock played a central role..."Szach is now challenging his conviction under recently introduced South Australian legislation that permits criminals to launch a second appeal if there is compelling new evidence. He will be represented at his appeal by Tony Kerin, a managing partner of Maurice Blackburn South Australia. While the case has always been dogged by circumstantial evidence and allegations of bias from law enforcement and the judicial system, the appeal will rest on the forensic evidence presented at the trial by Dr. Colin Manock. By modern standards, Dr. Manock’s forensic pathology was incorrect. After Stevenson’s home freezer was forcibly opened and his corpse discovered, Dr. Manock inserted a thermometer into the victim’s liver, conducted a series of equations, and deduced a time of death. His evidence placed Szach at the scene of the crime when the murder supposedly took place. Aside from the alleged flawed forensic evidence used to convict Szach, witnesses said more than one man visited Stevenson’s home on the night of the murder. There’s also the compelling story of an unidentified man who showed up on the steps of the South Australian Legal Aid Commission the morning after the murder. Kerin will focus on Dr. Manock’s time of death estimate, which was used to convict Szach." Reporter Michael Mata; Australasian Lawyer;
COUNTDOWN: 15 days to Wrongful Conviction Day: (Thursday October 6, 2016);
"In 1979, 19-year-old David Szach was sentenced to life for the murder of his lover, 44-year old criminal lawyer Derrance Stevenson. Fourteen years later, Szach was unexpectedly released from prison. While Szach has always maintained his innocence and set about trying to clear his name after his release, he has been repeatedly denied his legal right to an appeal. Szach is afflicted with motor neurone disease, a progressive disease that attacks the motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord. Before this disease ultimately claims his life, Szach wants his 1979 murder conviction officially quashed. Szach is now challenging his conviction under recently introduced South Australian legislation that permits criminals to launch a second appeal if there is compelling new evidence. He will be represented at his appeal by Tony Kerin, a managing partner of Maurice Blackburn South Australia. While the case has always been dogged by circumstantial evidence and allegations of bias from law enforcement and the judicial system, the appeal will rest on the forensic evidence presented at the trial by Dr. Colin Manock. By modern standards, Dr. Manock’s forensic pathology was incorrect. After Stevenson’s home freezer was forcibly opened and his corpse discovered, Dr. Manock inserted a thermometer into the victim’s liver, conducted a series of equations, and deduced a time of death. His evidence placed Szach at the scene of the crime when the murder supposedly took place. Aside from the alleged flawed forensic evidence used to convict Szach, witnesses said more than one man visited Stevenson’s home on the night of the murder. There’s also the compelling story of an unidentified man who showed up on the steps of the South Australian Legal Aid Commission the morning after the murder. Kerin will focus on Dr. Manock’s time of death estimate, which was used to convict Szach."
See Dr. Bob Moles intrduction to the Szach case on the phenomenal NetK Blog at the link below. The timing of death is important in any murder case because it helps to narrow down the range of people who could be regarded as suspects. In the Van Beelen case the estimated timing was so tight that, even though it has been called ‘scientifically unsound’, it eliminated all but Van Beelen from suspicion. But Van Beelen is not the only case in which serious questions have been raised concerning the evidence given with regard to the timing of a death. One such case is that of David Szach who was convicted of the murder of the Adelaide lawyer Derrance Stevenson. Stevenson’s body was found with a gunshot wound to the head, in a freezer at his own home..........Szach charged with murder: David Szach, 19, was in a relationship with the 44-year-old Derrance Stevenson. According to the autopsy report, Stevenson is said to have died at some time between 4 and 5 June 1979. It appears that Szach had driven from Adelaide to Coober Pedy (about 850 kilometres north of Adelaide) on the night it was thought that Stevenson had died. Szach had originally bought a bus ticket for the journey. However, he cashed the ticket in shortly before he left Adelaide, and travelled overnight to Coober Pedy in Stevenson’s rather ‘flash’ car. Police regarded this as suspicious at the time as Stevenson was said to have been possessive about his car. Szach was questioned by the police in Coober Pedy, and later there was some confusion about the precise timing and content of these interviews. The defence argued at the trial that the police deliberately didn’t tell Szach before the interviews that he was regarded as a suspect in the murder in the hope that he might inadvertently reveal something of value to them. It is a breach of police procedures to interview a suspect without properly informing them of their real purpose. It would, for example, be unfair to Szach if he thought that he was being interviewed on a charge of car stealing, while the police were actually trying to obtain information against him on a charge of murder. The police said that the interviews had taken place before they had received phone calls from the police in Adelaide telling them of the murder.
Szach was charged with murder and tried in the Supreme Court in Adelaide, in November and December 1979. Timing of death. Stevenson’s body was found in his freezer. The pathologist, Dr Manock, calculated the time of death by utilising a formula which had been developed from experiments where bodies had been frozen in the prone position (that is, lying flat). When Stevenson’s body was found, however, it was bent round in the foetal position with his back uppermost and his arms and feet downwards. Dr Manock said that he used the formula to calculate the time the body took to cool, adjusting the formula by 40 per cent because Stevenson’s body was doubled over rather than prone. In those circumstances, he said, there would be a reduced surface area of the body exposed and it would therefore take longer to cool down. The difficulty arises in how much the formula is to be modified. A modification of about 40 per cent can hardly be classified as an ‘adjustment’. In his autopsy report, Dr Manock stated: A body will cool 85 % of the temperature differential within 28 hours. However, where the effective surface area is reduced, the time is lengthened and in the above circumstances it is my opinion that the lengthening of cooling time would be about 40%. Dr Manock did not provide any proper scientific basis for such an adjustment. This is an example of a fact being accepted into evidence on the basis of an assertion without any properly established evidence or studies to support it. The ultimate effect of this evidence was to make Szach a plausible suspect because he was in the vicinity at the calculated time of death. It also meant that another ‘person of interest’ to the police had an alibi. Pathology evidence reviewed. Some years after the trial, Dr Byron Collins, a consultant forensic pathologist, reviewed the pathology evidence. In his report he said: Dr Manock’s formula was initially proposed by Fiddes and Patten with their work being published in the Journal of Forensic Medicine, 1958. On the review of the paper, it becomes transparently obvious that it was not applicable to the circumstances of Derrance Stevenson’s death.........A basic principle of scientific work is that the procedures are capable of being replicated. This means that they can be spelled out in such a way that another scientist could go through the same procedure and arrive at the same answer. In his report, Dr Collins outlined the reasons for his view that it was not appropriate for Dr Manock to use the formula to calculate time of death in this case. He pointed out that the authors of the research report, which was based on experiments on bodies frozen on the prone position, stressed that their findings were not to be used or applied in circumstances which varied significantly from those of the experiments. Dr Collins noted in his report that fundamental to the reliability of any formula is the accuracy of its individual factors. He went on to say that none of the variable factors that Dr Manock used in his calculations were matters that could be properly substantiated. For example, Dr Manock substituted a liver temperature for a rectal temperature. He did not explain why he thought that one could just be substituted for the other. The running temperature of the freezer was unknown at the time the body was placed in it. In normal mode it would have been –20 degrees C, but in superchill mode it would have been –28 degrees C, a significant difference. The core body temperature at the time of death was assumed by Dr Manock to be 37 degrees C, but he provided no appropriate evidence to support this assumption. In normal circumstances, bodies begin to cool down after death and Dr Manock had no way of determining the time between the shooting and when the body was placed in the freezer. Without knowing the room temperature and the length of time between death and refrigeration, Dr Manock would have had little idea of the body temperature at the time it was placed in the freezer. Szach convicted. Szach was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He appealed, and this was heard in March and April 1980, but was unsuccessful. In 1991, Michael David QC inquired into the matter on behalf of the Legal Services Commission to determine if it should fund a further appeal. He advised against it. Throughout his time in prison Szach refused to apply for parole because he claimed that he was in jail because of the shortcomings of the legal system. He claimed throughout that he did not commit the crime and that he would not apply for parole as that would amount to an admission of guilt. Eventually the law in South Australia was changed to enable the Chair of the Parole Board to apply for a non-parole period on behalf of a prisoner. Szach was released in 1993.