Part 2: The Prosecution Case – The Trial of Gerard Baden – Criminal Lawyers Case Files
On 15 July 2014, following 5 weeks of trial before the Brisbane Supreme Court, Baden-Clay was found guilty of the murder (covered under the area of law known as ‘assaults and offences of violence’) of his wife Allison Baden-Clay and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, that doesn’t mean that he will remain in prison until he dies – the sentencing judge set the date that he would be eligible for parole in 15 years, which means that he could be released in as early as 15 years. Following his release on parole, however, he will be subject to strict supervision until the day he dies.
This article discusses the key elements of the prosecution case and how the jury could have found Baden-Clay guilty, even though nobody actually saw him murder his wife. It is current at the time of writing (the month of August 2014).
‘Direct’ evidence and ‘circumstantial’ evidence
In law, there are two types of evidence – ‘direct’ evidence and ‘circumstantial’ evidence. ‘Direct’ evidence is evidence which supports a fact directly; common examples are witnesses who have seen or heard a person commit a particular crime.
‘Circumstantial’ evidence, however, is evidence which only may support a fact; common examples are scientific evidence, like fingerprints or DNA. In a criminal trial (dealing with criminal offences), the Judge will explain ‘circumstantial’ evidence to the jury this way: “Imagine that you go to bed and before you go to bed it is dry outside. If you wake up in the morning and you see that it is wet outside, you might think that it has rained during the night. You didn’t see it actually rain, but if you decide that there is no other explanation as to why it is wet outside, then you would conclude that it did rain during the night”.
Therefore, seeing it wet outside is only ‘circumstantial’ evidence that it may have rained, but if you actually saw it rain then that is ‘direct’ evidence. Quite obviously, ‘direct’ evidence is much stronger than ‘circumstantial’ evidence but it is entirely possible for a person to be convicted purely on ‘circumstantial’ evidence.
The case against Baden-Clay was purely circumstantial, meaning that nobody actually saw him murder his wife. Instead, the Prosecution relied on a number of pieces of ‘circumstantial’ evidence which they said pointed to the fact that he committed murder. The jury must assess each of these individually and do not need to be satisfied that every single one of them necessarily supports the fact that Baden-Clay killed his wife.
It is a balancing exercise; if you imagine a scale, each of these pieces of circumstantial evidence would be placed on one side of the scale. After enough pieces are placed on the scale, it would tilt the scales to a finding of guilt. It is up to the jury which pieces of evidence they decide to place on the scale.
The prosecution case
The prosecution relied on the following pieces of ‘circumstantial’ evidence to argue that Baden-Clay had committed the murder of his wife:
- The affair
The prosecution alleged Baden-Clay was motivated by his desire to start a new life with his long-time mistress Toni McHugh when he killed his wife. Ms McHugh and Mrs Baden-Clay were due to come face-to-face for the first time at a real estate conference on the same day Baden-Clay reported his wife missing. The prosecution said Baden-Clay risked having his “double life” exposed at the impending run-in between his wife and mistress, which may have resulted in the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of his already flagging real estate business.
- The financial stress
Mr Baden-Clay had business-related debts amounting to more than $500,000 at the time of his wife’s disappearance. The day after Mrs Baden-Clay’s body was found on the banks of a local creek Baden-Clay made enquiries with his insurer about how to claim on her life insurance.
- The scratches on Baden-Clay’s face
Baden-Clay appeared with three scratches on his right cheek on the morning he reported his wife missing. He maintained the injuries were shaving cuts, but four forensic experts told the trial the abrasions were more consistent with fingernail scratches. Evidence of DNA, possibly “belonging to someone else”, was found under the fingernails of Mrs Baden-Clay’s left hand. The prosecution alleged Mrs Baden-Clay used her left hand to scratch her husband’s right cheek as she was “fighting for her life”.
- The leaves
Leaves from six different species of plants were found entwined in Mrs Baden-Clay’s hair and tangled in the sleeves of her jumper. The same six plant species were found growing around the Baden-Clays’ home, particularly their back patio, carport and driveway. However, only two species of plants were found growing in the vicinity of Kholo Creek where Mrs Baden-Clay’s body was found. The prosecution argued that this showed that Mrs Baden-Clay was killed at the Baden-Clay home and then dragged through their property.
- The blood
DNA obtained from a bloodstain found in the boot of the Baden-Clays’ Holden Captiva matched Mrs Baden-Clay’s DNA.
- The mobile phone
Baden-Clay claimed he went to bed at 10 pm on the night his wife disappeared, April 19, 2012. However, his mobile phone was connected to his bedside charger at 1.48 am on April 20, 2012, contradicting his version.
- The behaviour
Baden-Clay engaged a criminal defence lawyer on the morning he reported his wife missing. He visited the chambers of a high-profile criminal defence barrister on the day his wife’s body was discovered.
After the prosecution finished calling all of their evidence, the defence opened their case and took the highly unusual step of having Baden-Clay himself give evidence.
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