David Eastman: The history of a legal saga spanning 25 years
He has served more than 19 years in jail for the 1989 murder of Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Winchester in Canberra.
Today the ACT Supreme Court has quashed his conviction and ordered a retrial.
In May the Martin inquiry recommended Eastman’s murder conviction be quashed, primarily because of flaws in the forensic case developed by scientist Robert Collins Barnes.
Inquiry head Justice Brian Martin found Eastman did not receive a fair trial and there had been a substantial miscarriage of justice.
He said a retrial would not be feasible nor fair, but that the conviction should be quashed.
That was despite Justice Martin saying he personally thought Eastman was guilty.
A full bench of the Supreme Court, made up of three acting Judges appointed to sit on the ACT bench, Justice Steven Rares, Justice Michael Wigney and Acting Justice Dennis Cowdroy, spent a month considering the report after taking submissions from the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions and Eastman’s lawyers.
Eastman has lost numerous appeals
Eastman became a suspect for the murder of Mr Winchester the day after the killing.
David Eastman’s legal battle timeline
- January 10, 1989 – AFP assistant commissioner Colin Winchester shot dead in his neighbour’s driveway
- January 11, 1989 – David Harold Eastman becomes a suspect
- August 1989 – Inquest into the death commences and ends with an open finding
- November 1992 – Inquest reopens
- December 24, 1992 – Eastman committed to stand trial for murder
- May 16, 1995 – Eastman arraigned on one count of murder, trial begins
- June 29, 1995 – Eastman’s bail revoked after a dispute with Justice Kenneth Carruthers
- November 3, 1995 – Eastman found guilty of murder
- November 10, 1995 – Eastman sentenced to life in prison
- May 2000 – High Court challenges to overturn conviction dismissed
- October 6, 2005 – Miles inquiry reports Eastman was fit to plead except for a short period – conviction stands
- September 3, 2012 – Justice Shane Marshall orders inquiry into Eastman’s conviction
- November 5, 2013 – Eastman inquiry begins
- May 30, 2014 – Inquiry recommends Eastman’s conviction be quashed
- August 22, 2014- ACT Supreme Court quashes Eastman’s conviction and orders retrial
Mr Winchester was shot as he got out of his car in his neighbour’s driveway at Deakin on January 10, 1989.
Detectives targeted Eastman who had threatened Mr Winchester after he refused to help him have an assault charge withdrawn.
Eastman believed if he was convicted for that crime it would thwart his bid to rejoin the public service.
Eastman was eventually convicted of killing Colin Winchester in 1995 and sentenced to life in jail.
He has long protested his innocence, through numerous appeals including in the High Court.
A major inquiry also considered Eastman’s fitness to plead at the original trial.
His court appearances were often fraught and unpredictable as he regularly sacked his legal team, including during the original trial.
In the end, Eastman’s murder conviction was secured by the forensic case which included key evidence linking Eastman’s car with the scene of the shooting.
Sentencing him in 1995, Justice Ken Carruthers said: “This investigation must surely rank as one of the most skilled, sophisticated and determined forensic investigations in the history of criminal investigation in Australia.”
But the recent inquiry turned that on its head.
The critical issue was that Mr Barnes had claimed gunshot residue in Eastman’s car was indistinguishable from that at the scene.
In the latest inquiry he was forced to concede that the evidence was misleading and the link between the scene and Eastman’s car was discredited.
From there the forensic case crumbled amid revelations there had been inadequate record-keeping and evidence had been destroyed.
The Martin Inquiry made other adverse findings about the prosecution and police not making disclosures to the defence.
The inquiry also considered fresh evidence in secret hearings about the possibility of Mafia involvement.
But in the end it was the forensic case which determined the outcome.
In his report, Justice Martin wrote: “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.”
Justice Martin said he thought Eastman had probably committed the crime, but had not had a fair trial and his conviction should be quashed.
“In my view the substantial miscarriage of justice suffered by the applicant should not be allowed to stand uncorrected,” he wrote.
His findings gave a dramatic twist to one of the most significant legal battles in Australia’s history.
- DPP lawyers concede forensic evidence was flawed
- ACT DPP wins right to argue to keep convicted killer in jail
- Eastman inquiry decision bogged down in legal argument
- Three judges selected to consider Eastman inquiry findings
- Eastman compensation claim dependent on Supreme Court, retrial ‘unlikely’
- Eastman inquiry recommends David Eastman’s conviction be quashed, finds miscarriage of justice