Man acquitted of murder in the 1980s becomes first man to ever be retried in Queensland following changes to law
In Queensland, if a person is charged with a criminal offence and is then found not guilty at a trial then generally that person can never be charged in relation to the same matter ever again. This principal also applies in most countries across the world and is known as the ‘double jeopardy’ principal. There are very simple and sensible reasons for this principal. Firstly, it is to ensure that the prosecution builds its very best case and places it before the jury once and only once. Secondly, it is to stop the prosecution from prosecuting over and over again if they are unsuccessful, each time with the ability of modifying how the trial is run based upon weaknesses that were exposed at prior trials. Thirdly, it is to give closure to a defendant who is acquitted (that is, they can continue to live their lives without the fear of ever being prosecuted for the same matter again).
Changes to the law in Queensland in 2014
In 2014, the law relating to ‘double jeopardy’ changed in Queensland. Under this law if a person is charged with a serious criminal offence — which includes murder — and is acquitted by a jury, in effect a person can be charged a second time if new evidence emerges which was not available to the prosecution at the time of the original trial. That may include medical evidence, new eyewitnesses coming forward or new confessions.
A lot of legal argument will therefore turn on whether or not evidence was ‘available’ to the prosecution at the time of the original trial. If, for example, it was simply evidence that was missed because of sloppy police work then arguably the evidence is not ‘new’ because it was ‘available’ to the prosecution at the time of the original trial.
Why was the law changed in 2014?
In October 1983 a man by the name of Raymond Carroll was interviewed by the police in relation to the murder of Deidre, a baby whose body had been found on the roof of a toilet block in Ipswich, Queensland, in April 1973. A post-mortem at the time had determined Deidre died of strangulation and bite marks and bruises were noted on the baby’s legs. It was these marks which led police to charge Carroll over the murder, as dental evidence matched the marks with Carroll’s teeth.
The murder trial started on 18 February 1985. The prosecution’s case was that the teeth marks on Deidre’s body were made by Carroll, that he had a habit for biting small children on the legs and that his alibi was false (as Carroll claimed he was in South Australia at the time of Deidre’s death). The jury found him guilty of murder, but the conviction was quashed on appeal. The Court of Appeal found that the prosecution had led no evidence to disprove Carroll’s claim that he was not in Ipswich at the time of the death, that the evidence relating to Carroll’s habit of biting children’s legs was prejudicial and inadmissible and that a jury must have had difficulties accepting the dental evidence presented by the prosecution.
By 1999 the police had received substantial new evidence in relation to the case. A witness had come forward who placed Carroll in Ipswich at the time of the killing, another witness claimed Carroll had admitted to him in jail that he had killed Deidre and further evidence relating to the teeth marks was obtained. However, as the laws at the time did not allow for it Carroll could not be re-tired for murder. The only thing the prosecution could do was charge Carroll with perjury (lying under oath) based on the fact that he had lied at his murder trial by swearing that he did not kill Deidre. Carroll was found guilty of perjury but this conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal and then confirmed by the High Court. Their finding was that in order to find him guilty of perjury the jury must’ve believed that he had killed Deidre, which they were not able to do because of the laws at the time.
There was a lot of public outcry at the time but it wasn’t until 2014 that the government changed the laws to allow people to be re-tried in certain circumstances. These laws apply retrospectively, meaning that a person can be re-tried regardless of when they were acquitted.
The first man to be retried in Queensland since the 2014 changes
In July 2018, a Queensland man was arrested and charged with murder after previously having been acquitted. This will be the first time the 2014 changes have ever been applied in Queensland. However, before the prosecution are able to put the man on trial they will firstly have to apply to the Supreme Court seeking permission to be able to re-try the man.
Because of legal restrictions preventing the identity of the person subject of the application to be publicised, police would not reveal any further details, except to say he had already faced court once over the alleged murder and been acquitted.
When will we know more about the case?
Virtually no information about this matter has yet been made public and this is because investigations of this kind are extremely sensitive. They will often involve ‘assets’ such as police informants and the prosecution need to ensure that the evidence remains clean and untainted and that the informant remains protected.