Friday, October 28, 2011


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This ABC documentary features a case under appeal in which key evidence at trial is being examined. Australians will be able to watch the documentary on October 31, 2011. (See the Wikipedia page following the ABC release); Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, our readers elsewhere in the world will be able to access the documentary at:


Trial and Error?

In late 2008, Gordon Wood was sent to jail for 17 years for the murder of his girlfriend, former model Caroline Byrne. The jury accepted the prosecution's case that Gordon Wood had picked up his girlfriend and thrown her, spear-like, over the edge of a cliff at Sydney's notorious 'The Gap'. The case is currently being appealed and key expert evidence given at the trial is being re-examined.

Sixteen years after Caroline Byrne was found dead, the question once again being asked is: did she suicide or was she murdered?

'Trial and Error?', presented by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monday 31st October at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday 1st November at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 at 8.00pm on Saturdays or on ABC iview and at

The ABC release can be found at:


Wikipedia informs us that:

Caroline Byrne, an Australian model, was found at the bottom of a cliff at The Gap in Sydney in the early hours of 8 June 1995. Her then boyfriend Gordon Wood, who at the time of her death was chauffeur and personal assistant to successful businessman Rene Rivkin, was convicted of her murder on 21 November 2008.

[edit] Events of 7 June 1995

When she died, Byrne (born 8 October 1971) was 24 and had been in a relationship with Wood since 1992. She was a model but principally worked as a modelling instructor for Sydney deportment and etiquette educator June Dally-Watkins. On 7 June 1995 she failed to turn up for work and for an appointment with a psychiatrist. That afternoon and evening there were three reported sightings of her near The Gap at Watsons Bay, in the company of two men, one of whom matched Wood's description. Two of the sightings (at 1 pm and 3 pm) were by the owners of the Bad Dog Cafe, Craig Martin and Lance Melbourne. In 1998 an Irish artist named John Doherty came forward to say that later that evening (8:30 pm) he too had sighted Byrne outside his studio window arguing with one man while another man stood nearby.[1]

Wood denied being present at Watsons Bay that afternoon. Evidence was sworn at both inquests by Wood's friends Brett Cochrane and Nic Samartis that they lunched with him briefly around 1:15 pm in Potts Point before he was called away after a call from Rivkin.[2] Wood claimed that he was asked by Rivkin to chauffeur prominent lobbyist and ex-federal minister Graham Richardson to an appointment and then spent the afternoon doing regular chores for Rivkin before going home around 7 pm. The Richardson alibi was denied by Richardson when he was interviewed by police in 2001.[1]

Wood's movements in the afternoon have not been reported prior to the late evening, when Wood claims he awoke on his couch having fallen asleep in front of the television and was immediately alarmed that Byrne was still not home. Wood has said he did not know Byrne's whereabouts but was led by what he termed "telepathic communication" to The Gap, where he claimed to have spotted her body at the base of the cliff at about 1 am. Caroline's brother was with him at the time and could see nothing. Neither could the police who arrived soon after with torches. The night was pitch black and the cliff was shrouded in mist. It was impossible to see the rocks below the cliff, let alone a body dressed in black. This became the "killer point" in the prosecution's evidence.

The identity of the second man sighted with Wood in Watsons Bay earlier in the day remains unclear. At various times the press have postulated that it may have been Caroline's booking agent Adam Leigh [3] or Rivkin associate Gary Redding.

[edit] Media interest

From 1997 onwards the case and circumstances of Byrne's death were regularly examined in Australia's national newspapers and reported as "one of Sydney's unsolved crimes". The death of a beautiful model at one of Sydney's notorious suicide spots, the connection to the flamboyant and newsworthy Rivkin, and a net of witnesses and commentators which included some prominent Sydney identities all added to the intrigue of the case.

[edit] Offset Alpine speculation

Attention was particularly heightened by the continuing (though unproven) speculation of a connection with Rene Rivkin's financial activities. The day before Byrne's death, Wood and Rivkin were interviewed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission about the Offset Alpine fire of 1993 and the true ownership of share parcels traded in Offset Alpine owned by nominees related to Swiss bank accounts.[4] Wood had reportedly indicated to Byrne that the fire was a "set-up" for insurance purposes. It has been reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (see ref Wainwight et al.) that Wood's mother made a profit of A$10,000 trading in Offset Alpine shares bought in February 1994 at $1.30. However, in his 2006 book Packer's Lunch, Neil Chenoweth records that the company's shares were trading above $1.50 from January 1994, casting doubt on this account.

Ultimately in 2001 Rivkin was charged with insider trading (of Qantas shares) and his eventual conviction in 2003 would have a devastating effect on his mental stability, culminating in his 2005 suicide.[5] However the ASIC investigation into share trading in Offset Alpine and the true beneficiaries would prove an epic that outlived Rivkin, commencing in 1995 and still running as of 2008 with its focus shifted to Graham Richardson and Trevor Kennedy.

[edit] Peripheral celebrities

Adding to this intrigue was a list of celebrities with a peripheral involvement in the case. Byrne's medical doctor who had referred her to the psychiatric appointment she did not keep on 7 June was television celebrity physician, Dr Cindy Pan.[6] Graham Richardson's diarised luncheon appointment that day (which caused him to question whether he may have been chauffered anywhere by Wood) was with rugby league identity Peter Bullfrog Moore at Sydney's Hilton Hotel and was set up to broker a peace deal in the Super League war which deeply divided Australian rugby league at that time. Moore died in July 2000 a year prior to the Strikeforce Irondale detectives' interview with Richardson, thus preventing corroboration of the luncheon timings.[7] Byrne's best friend was actress Kylie Watson, a Home and Away cast member.

Armed with photographs of Byrne, her employer Dally-Watkins' and Watson's amateur sleuthing around Watsons Bay in the weeks after her death uncovered the Martin/Melbourne sighting lead.[2]

Possible prosecution witnesses named by Justice Barr when empanelling the second trial jury in August 2008 included entertainer Tania Zaetta, businessman John Singleton, journalist Paul Barry and paparazzo Jamie Fawcett.

[edit] Inquests, investigation and trials

Two inquests were held into Byrne's death by New South Wales State coroner John Abernethy, with Wood claiming it was suicide. The second inquest in 1998 delivered an open finding. That same year, Wood left Australia.

Police investigations continued from 2000 onwards as "Strikeforce Irondale" with hundreds of witnesses interviewed and resulting in a brief of evidence running to more than 350 pages. Caroline's father Tony Byrne continued to press for action from the investigation eventually enrolling the assistance of New South Wales politician Fred Nile who raised questions about the investigation in State Parliament up till 2004.[8]

In 2004 scientific reports relating to the physics of a body falling/jumping/being projected from the cliff produced by Professor Rod Cross were the principal elements of new evidence which encouraged the Crown to push for a trial of Gordon Wood.[9] (see Location of the body). In March 2006 the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC agreed with police that there was enough evidence to charge Wood with Byrne's murder.[10] Wood was detained in London in April 2006, extradited to Australia and released on bail by a Sydney court on 4 May. On 6 July 2007, Wood was committed to stand trial for the murder of Byrne.

The first trial started on 21 July 2008 with Mark Tedeschi QC appearing for the Crown and Winston Terracini QC defending Wood. On 6 August 2008, Justice Graham Barr declared a mistrial because of the alleged contact that a member of the jury had with 2GB radio host Jason Morrison. The juror, who remained anonymous, claimed that some of the jurors were planning a secret night visit to the crime scene (the Gap) being organised by a particular juror who was a "bully" and who had "already decided that Wood was guilty." Justice Barr ruled "I had to discharge the jury ... because some jurors disobeyed my instructions and misconducted themselves." [11]

The second trial commenced on 25 August 2008 and for the first time in New South Wales court history a panel of 15 jurors was sworn in instead of the usual 12 to provide some contingency. [11]

[edit] Trial evidence

[edit] Presentation of the Crown case

Following the aborted first trial Mr Tedeschi the Crown Prosecutor, presented the Crown case over a nine week period from 26 August until 24 October 2008. Over 70 witnesses were called and the jury heard hours of audio and video evidence including taped interviews with Rivkin and Wood.

Witnesses called by the prosecution included Pan, Richardson, Dally-Watkins, Watson, Zaetta, Singleton, Fawcett, Bob Hagan and sports journalist Phil Rothfield. Physics expert Professor Rod Cross spent two days in the witness box, as did Byrne's former boyfriend Andrew Blanchette. At one stage Justice Barr counselled Blanchette that he might consider taking legal advice before answering a particular question. Sensationally on his second day in the witness box, Blanchette agreed that early that morning he had phoned another witness - his girlfriend and a minor at the time of Byrne's death - before she was due to give evidence later that day. Blanchette was reported to police by the witness (who was never publicly named) who had not heard from him for a number of years. Blanchette denied that he had been attempting to influence her evidence.

Doherty and Cochrane gave evidence via video link up from overseas. The court heard an audio tape of a 1996 police interview with Adam Leigh and was told he was still too mentally fragile to give evidence in court.

[edit] Location of the body

Retired University of Sydney physicist Cross submitted six reports on the case over two years - with his initial findings being quite different to the later findings that were presented in the trial.[9] Originally an expert on Alfven waves in the field of Plasma Physics, Cross also has sufficient interest in Sports Mechanics to be proposed by police investigators as a forensic science expert in fall dynamics. In 2005 he conducted experiments which informed his speculation that Byrne could not have jumped to the spot where her body was found (11.8 metres from the cliff) and must have been thrown.[12][13] The required launch speed, from the top of the 29 m high cliff, was 4.5 m/s, and the available runup distance was only 4.0m - although appeal submissions in 2011 called this into question. Cross tested 11 females from the Goulburn police academy and found that they could dive and land head first (in a swimming pool) at about 3.5 m/s after a 4 m runup. A strong male could throw a 61 kg female at 4.8 m/s after a runup of only 2 or 3 m.

During the trial the Court was told of some uncertainty regarding the actual location where the body was found. Senior Constable Lisa Camwell, one of the officers who retrieved Byrne's body in 1995 gave evidence that she had in 1996 participated in a video re-enactment in which she indicated the body's location. She gave evidence that in 2004 she was contacted by an officer in charge of the murder investigation and told that the position of Ms Byrne's body had become a significant issue. She was told that the body position she had indicated on the video now appeared to be incorrect. Media reports during the second trial suggested the location of the body was an essential component to the Crown case that Ms Byrne was not pushed nor jumped, but was forcefully thrown to her death.[14] However, the tests conducted by Cross showed that Caroline Byrne would not be able to land at either of the two landing points and that it would have been possible for a strong man to throw her to either of these landing points.

[edit] Suicide history

The court heard that Caroline's mother Andrea Byrne had committed suicide in March 1991 after she became depressed following a breast enlargement operation that went wrong.[15] Mr Terracini also read to the court a letter Tony Byrne had previously provided to police in which he claimed that Caroline had made an attempt on her own life via overdose in 1992. In court Mr Byrne denied that Caroline had on that occasion intended to kill herself and instead was making "a cry for help". At another stage of the cross examination, he claimed to suppose that had Caroline wanted to kill herself she would have copied her mother's method rather than jumping from a cliff.[16]

Byrne's GP, author and television personality Cindy Pan, gave evidence that she had seen Byrne for two years before her death and had specifically discussed Byrne's depression with her in the weeks leading up to her death. Dr Pan told the court Byrne said she had felt depressed for about a month and the condition had worsened in the week leading up to their appointment on 5 June 1995. Pan said the model told her she could not put a finger on what she was unhappy about.

"I was trying to explore with her what she might be depressed about, but she was not really able to identify any one specific thing," Dr Pan told the court. She said Ms Byrne told her she "had the same thing three years ago" and had been put on medication, which had helped. Dr Pan said Ms Byrne denied having thoughts of self-harm and she referred her to a psychiatrist, obtaining an appointment for 4 pm on Wednesday, 7 June.[17]

[edit] Presentation of the defence

One defence witness, Prof John Hilton, a forensic pathologist, was called during the Prosecution case, due to his later unavailability. Otherwise Mr Terracini commenced the defence case on Monday 27 October 2008 calling another physics expert Prof Marcus Pandy, a biomechancial engineer who conducted experiments on running and jumping speeds of two females. Only a handful of defence witnesses were called - two forensic pathologists, one psychiatrist, Prof Pandy, a stunt diver, and Wood's sister Jacqueline Schmidt - and the defence case concluded within a week. The psychiatrist claimed that Caroline was a high risk of committing suicide since 3% of people who attempt suicide attempt again. The prosecution reversed the argument to establish that 97% don't.

With the trial drawing to a close the jury made a number of requests of Justice Barr - to visit the Gap for a third time; for a transcript of Doherty's evidence and for video footage of Pandy's running experiments.[18]


[edit] Deliberation and verdict

For the first time in New South Wales court history, a ballot was used to select the three jurors who would stand down so that twelve of the sitting fifteen would deliberate to a verdict. After five full days of deliberation on 21 November 2008 they found Gordon Wood guilty.[20] On 3 December 2008 Gordon Wood was sentenced to 17 years, with a minimum time in prison of 13 years. Wood is appealing the conviction.[21], [22]

[edit] Appeal

Wood's appeal hearing commenced on August 22, 2010 in the Criminal Court of Appeal before Chief Judge at Common Law Peter McClellan, Justice Megan Latham and Justice Stephen Rothman. Wood's barrister Tim Game SC submitted that the jury's verdict was unreasonable and not supported by the evidence. His submission spoke of nine grounds for appeal. One was that the trial miscarried by reason of the prejudice occasioned by the Tedeschi's closing address. Others related to criticisms of Barr's directions to the jury.

Early media reporting of the appeal focused on Game's submission that the scientific evidence used to convict Wood and presented by Professor Rod Cross was flawed. A photograph was presented in the trial and purported to be taken in 1996 showing that scrub near the fenceline had limited Byrne's possible run-up to the jump, supporting an argument that she would have needed to have been thrown to achieve the horizontal distance from the cliff wall that her body travelled. The appeal judges heard and the Crown acknowledged that the photo was in fact taken in 2003 and that photo's quality meant that a shadow might have appeared to be scrub. The appeal judges heard that a 1996 colour photo which showed that there was no scrub limiting the run-up was available to the Crown during the trial but that the Crown had chosen to introduce the blurrier, non-contemporaneous, more ambiguous image.[23]

Game's submission, consistent with so much of the trial evidence, concerned matters relating to the exact positioning of Byrne's body at the base of the rocks and the orientation of her legs and torso and leading to questions regarding the contended launch point and the assumptions and assertions made by Cross in his pre-trial studies and reports and his trial evidence. Day two of Game's submission focused on the police's changed view between 1996 and 2005 as to Byrne's landing spot and specifically trial evidence given by Sergeant Mark Powderly used to justify the reconstruction.[24]

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;;