Miscarriages of Justice


Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Colin Winchester was gunned down in his neighbour’s driveway in the Canberra suburb of Deakin at about 9.15 pm on 10 January 1989. Two shots were fired. The first shot was fired into the back of Winchester’s head from a distance of about 50 centimetres as Winchester was about to alight from his Ford Falcon sedan. The second shot, half a second later, was fired into Winchester’s head just above his right ear. Two shell cases were later found, but the firearm itself (a Ruger 10/12 self loading rifle) was never located. An autopsy revealed that either shot would have been fatal.

Winchester had been working on a drug investigation involving a Calabrian mafia gang growing and dealing in marijuana crops in the NSW town of Bungendore. At the time of Winchester’s death, eleven members of the gang were about to face trial on drug charges. Winchester had been working with a police informer named Guiseppe Verduci to penetrate the gang, and members of the gang had been led to believe that although Winchester was involved in the investigation, he was protecting them in exchange for money. Therefore, when the arrests took place, some gang members must have felt that Winchester had double-crossed them. Some senior police officers were of the view that Winchester’s death was a revenge killing for double-crossing the mafia gang. The actual execution style killing (the so-called ‘double tap’) was regarded as a signature of the ‘Ndrangheta, the L’Onorata Societa of the Calabrian mafia. This was not only known at the time but it is still believed by many police to be true today. However, despite an apparent motive and the violent nature of the ‘Ndrangheta, no actual evidence ever emerged to positively link the Calabrian mafia to the murder.

As time went by with no arrest in Australia’s highest profile police execution, police turned their attention to another suspect. Former Treasury public servant David Harold Eastman gradually emerged as the prime suspect in the murder of Winchester because of an argument between them on 16 December 1988, and subsequent threats which were made by Eastman against Winchester. For example, several weeks before the murder Eastman had allegedly told his one-time solicitor Denis Barbara, “I will kill Winchester and get the Ombudsman too.” In addition, Eastman’s doctor, Dennis Roantree, made a note on Eastman’s medical file on 6 January 1989, that Eastman had said, in his presence, “I should shoot the bastard (Winchester).” These and other actions by Eastman were responsible for the authorities building a case against him.

As a result, Eastman was committed for trial on Christmas Eve 1992. In 1995, three years later, he was convicted and sentenced to prison for life. The presence of gunshot residue in the boot of Eastman’s car, which he couldn’t explain, was critical in him being convicted. But, in 2011, a teacher friend of Eastman signed an affidavit to say that he had borrowed Eastman’s car in 1988 to go rabbit shooting and that the gunshot residue found in the boot of Eastman’s car might have come from the friend’s rifle which he had (at that time) left in Eastman’s car boot. ACT Supreme Court Judge Shane Marshall, in 2012, said that there was doubt about Eastman’s conviction, and ruled that the Winchester murder should be decided by a new inquiry headed by retired ACT Supreme Court Judge Kevin Duggan. This inquiry is set down for November 2013. From prison, Eastman continues to proclaim his innocence of the crime and maintains that Winchester was killed in a professional hit by the Calabrian mafia to prevent Winchester giving evidence against them at their forthcoming trial.

Eastman’s claims that the Calabrian mafia killed Winchester received a boost in 2013 when a leading Italian anti-mafia prosecutor, Vincenzo Macri, said that he is convinced that the Calabrian mafia murdered Colin Winchester in 1989. He added that he based his belief of Australian police sources. Macri said ”I am pleased that the Australian justice system is pursuing those responsible for the murder, whose principals are certainly to be identified within the Calabrian mafia residents in Australia.” Macri, who published a book in 2009, Australian ‘Ndrangheta, told The Australian that he believes that “Winchester, Donald Mackay and Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen - who was killed by a parcel bomb at the NCA’s Adelaide headquarters in 1994 – were all victims of the ‘Ndrangheta.”

The report of the Duggan Inquiry will go ACT Supreme Court which has the power to quash Eastman’s conviction if that is what the report recommends. Alternately, it may order a re-trial. A long time solicitor for Eastman, Terry O’Donnell, believes that the Eastman case “is the most significant miscarriage of justice case ever in Australia, more so even than Lindy Chamberlain.” The Weekend Australian Magazine, (February 2013), p.14.

When it begins in November 2013 the Duggan Inquiry into the Eastman case will be followed with a great deal of interest.

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