SUB-HEADING: "Eastman was convicted of the murder in 1995, had the conviction quashed in 2014, faced a retrial – and has now been found not guilty."

PHOTO CAPTION: "Colin Winchester, the highest-ranking officer to be murdered in Australia’s history."

GIST: "The courtroom was eerily quiet on the day David Eastman’s murder conviction began to unravel. It was late summer 2014 and, outside the walls of the ACT supreme court, the city was flooding. Torrential rain and wild storms were bringing trees crashing down on to houses, flooding schools, swelling stormwater drains and grounding flights. But the court pressed on. The end was in sight to its almost six-month inquiry into Eastman’s 1995 conviction for the assassination of Colin Winchester – the Australian federal police assistant commissioner who commanded the ACT’s police force. It was a crime for which Eastman had spent almost 19 years behind bars and a case that, for many years, gripped the nation. Winchester returned to his Deakin home late from work, about 9.15pm on 10 January 1989. As usual, the police chief parked his car outside his widowed neighbour’s home, a small gesture to make her feel safe. Winchester’s killer waited in the darkness. Two shots were fired as he moved to get out of his car; the first to the back of his head, the second to his right temple. Inside, his wife Gwen heard noises “like sharp stones coming up on to the front of the window”. She walked outside to find her husband slumped behind the steering wheel. Winchester remains the highest-ranking officer to be murdered in Australia’s history. Rumours swirled about the involvement of the powerful Calabrian mafia, known as the ‘Ndrangheta or honoured society, who Winchester had double-crossed in a 1980s undercover sting that brought down their cannabis crops near Bungendore, in New South Wales. A vast, all-consuming police investigation instead shifted its focus to Eastman, a Treasury official, who was furious with police for refusing to drop an assault charge against him. The public watched every step of the case. First as Eastman was charged with murder in 1993. Then as he was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life imprisonment. And on and on, as Eastman used every possible avenue of inquiry and appeal to free himself from prison and clear his name for a murder he said he never committed. But on that summer afternoon in 2014, the court’s public gallery was all but deserted. National interest had long ago waned and Winchester’s murder was fading from the consciousness of most Australians. The 2014 inquiry was poring over the forensic evidence used to tie Eastman to the murder scene. It was crucial evidence at the 1995 trial.
Gunshot residue found in Eastman’s car boot was said to be a precise match to that found at the scene of Winchester’s death. The analysis was lauded by prosecutors as strong and unchallenged evidence of Eastman’s guilt, and the trial judge later described the police work as “one of the most skilled, sophisticated and determined forensic investigations in the history of criminal investigations in Australia”. The lead forensic witness, who cannot be named, was presented to the jury as completely independent, his veracity and expertise without reproach. That all came tumbling down in a single afternoon. A secret tape, never heard before, was played through the court speakers. Lawyers glanced at one another in expectation. The recording was made by a detective working the Winchester murder, Thomas McQuillen. He had begun to have reservations about the case’s lead forensic investigator. So he secretly taped their conversations. The audio betrayed any notion that the star forensic witness was impartial. “I’m working with you. As far as I’m concerned I’m a, I’m a Crown witness, a police witness,” the supposedly independent forensic expert told McQuillen. “I’m not going to see the brief suffer.’” Then, speaking about other forensic scientists who had reviewed the evidence and disagreed with his findings, he said: “If we don’t put a brake on these turkeys, I mean, we don’t want these bastards putting that sort of stuff in writing. They’ve got to be told, you don’t say I do not agree. You ask questions all right.” Eastman’s defence was never told any of this. In fact, their attempts at trial to discredit the crown’s lead forensic witness were openly and successfully ridiculed by the prosecution. Had they been told of the witness’s behaviour, Eastman’s defence may have had cause to begin questioning the forensic evidence more thoroughly. Had they done that, they would have realised it was deeply flawed. The expert had made embarrassingly basic errors. He mixed up evidence taken from Eastman’s car and the crime scene. The mix-up was ridiculed by the inquiry’s senior counsel assisting, Liesl Chapman SC: “For a forensic scientist, it doesn’t get any worse than that.” He accidentally destroyed evidence, overstated his conclusions and used a deeply flawed database of ammunition types – prepared by a student – to reach the conclusion that the gunshot residue in Eastman’s boot and that at the scene were one and the same. The inquiry found later in 2014 that: “The issue of guilt was determined on the basis of deeply flawed forensic evidence in circumstances where the applicant was denied procedural fairness in respect of a fundamental feature of the trial process concerned with disclosure by the prosecution of all relevant material. “In addition, evidence of inadequacies and flaws in the case file and case work of the key forensic scientists were unknown to everyone involved in the investigation and trial.” Eastman was freed late on the evening of 22 August 2014. He lay beneath a blanket in the back seat of a station wagon, hiding from the cameras as he was bundled away from the prison where he had spent the past 19 years of his life. The inquiry head, Brian Martin, a former Northern Territory supreme court chief justice, said he was “fairly certain” of Eastman’s guilt but said he still had a “nagging doubt”. Martin recommended Eastman not be tried again. The ACT supreme court and local prosecutors took a different view. Prosecutors maintained that, even without the forensics, there was plenty to prove Eastman’s guilt. He was allegedly seen scoping out the area around Winchester’s house, had a burning hatred of police and Winchester, had uttered threats and bought a gun police believed to be the murder weapon. They said the case against Eastman remained overwhelming. This year, almost 30 years after Winchester’s death, it came back to the ACT supreme court for retrial. Jurors heard new evidence about the mafia’s possible involvement, though the evidence was taken largely in secret. Now-ageing witnesses were brought back, again, and the crown once more tried to build a circumstantial case pointing to Eastman’s guilt. The retrial was wholly supported by the Winchester family. The jury spent seven days deliberating. At one point this week, it looked as though it would not reach a verdict. But on Thursday morning, the news came through. A decision had been made. Eastman was not guilty. His legal aid lawyer, Angus Webb, said of the decision: “Justice has been done.” Winchester’s widow, Gwen, died without any semblance of closure. She passed away several months after Eastman’s conviction was quashed and he was released. The remaining family say they are deeply disappointed with the decision. They have been subjected to speculation, rumour, innuendo and legal proceedings since Winchester was shot dead. John Hinchey, the ACT’s former victims of crime commissioner, said police would be similarly upset. “They would be heartbroken, I would believe, and grief-stricken, again,” he told reporters outside court. “It is another day of mourning for the AFP and the Winchesters.” Eastman himself has not spoken publicly." For most of the 2014 inquiry, he was rumoured to be sitting in prison, quietly listening in via audiolink from afar. It was a notable difference from his behaviour in the 1995 trial. Then, he clashed openly with the trial judge, prosecution and his own lawyers, who he repeatedly sacked only to be left self-representing during critical parts of the hearing. “It would not be an exaggeration to describe it as chaotic,” an appeal court noted in 1997. Eastman made “vile, foul-mouthed, vituperative comments” to the judge and prosecutor, and he was removed from the trial for a time and placed in a separate room with a two-way video link. “His honour was able to supervise the sound control so that the volume could be turned down when the appellant’s abusive language warranted such action,” the appeal court noted. Eastman, who has been found to suffer a paranoid personality disorder, has tried, unsuccessfully, to claim he was unfit to plead in the 1995 trial. He said police deliberately placed him under immense pressure during their investigation, hoping he would crack and make a confession. The resources deployed against Eastman were vast. Police bugged his apartment and tailed him everywhere. It was deliberately overt and “in-your-face” surveillance at times, the inquiry found. Police knew of Eastman’s personality disorder, and were advised to keep regular contact with their suspect, in the hope of tipping him over the edge. They falsely accused him of “homosexual activities with boys” and would often knock on his door unannounced to “return property”. On one occasion, police stuck their foot in the door when Eastman tried to dismiss them. They monitored him during him his daily swim at a Canberra pool and had a female officer sunbathe in the pool every day. The lead detective on the case, Richard Ninness, explained the tactic. “He’d usually go to the Olympic swimming pool in Civic and we orchestrated a situation with the policewoman, she was sunbathing at the pool on a daily basis,” he said. “He struck up a rapport with her and invited her on an outing and he took her to the war memorial and we knew in advance where they were going.” When he returned to his car from the war memorial, police were waiting for him. Ninness would even swim at the pool at the same time as Eastman, to keep eyes on him. “I used to go to the swimming pool and he used to swim at the same Olympic pool … it was important that I keep some sort of visual, even though I didn’t talk to him, that he actually saw me there and my presence,” Ninness said. Eastman frequently complained of harassment and his lawyer, Stuart Pilkington, wrote to the police to tell them his client did not want to participate in an interview. In response, Pilkington said he got a drunken call from Ninness. He told the inquiry: “Detective Sergeant Ninness said words to the following effect: ‘I got your fucking letter. If I want to talk to your little cunt of a client, I’ll fucking well talk to him whenever I fucking well like. You can stick your fucking letter where it hurts most’.” The inquiry found the strategy was deliberate and “inappropriate”, even for the attitudes accepted in the 1980s and 1990s. “The harassing and provocative conduct was undertaken with the deliberate intention of provoking the applicant into saying something incriminating, which could be recorded on listening devices in his home,” the inquiry found. The jury’s verdict on Thursday once again leaves the Winchester case open, again. It means the murderer of the highest ranking police officer in Australia’s history remains at large."

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PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. 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: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;